The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' February 27, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: People around the world are praying for the recovery of Pope John Paul II. But his continued health problems are raising questions about the future of his papacy and the church.

Here to discuss that are Francis Cardinal George, head of the Archdiocese of Chicago; Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; and Greg Burke, who covers the pope for Fox News.

Gentlemen, welcome. We're honored to have all of you with us today.

Let's start with the pope's surprise appearance today at his hospital window. Greg Burke, what can you tell us?

GREG BURKE, FOX NEWS ROME CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, there was a bit of high drama here today actually, because the Vatican had said a couple days ago that the pope would follow the Angeles prayer from his hospital room, giving the idea that it would be the first time he missed it actually in 26 years.

And he did miss it, to a certain extent, because someone else recited the prayer and read the message for him. Although the big surprise came right after the Angeles, the pope showing up at the window.

Fortunately, they kept it closed this time. The last time he had been in the hospital, he came out for the Angeles, and as it turned out, he then just got sick again very soon.

That's the latest from here, Chris.

WALLACE: All right, Greg. Stay with us, because we'll want to get back to you in a little bit.

Cardinal George, let me bring you in. I'm sure that you're in touch with Vatican officials. What are you hearing about how the pope is doing?

CARDINAL FRANCIS EUGENE GEORGE, ARCHBISHOP OF CHICAGO: Well, I'm in touch largely through you and other news agencies here in this country.

The pope is a very strong man, and so he's surprised people for years with his ability to recuperate. They're still very anxious about how his difficulty in breathing will affect his own future ability as pope.

RAY FLYNN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN: Well, I think everybody was particularly pleased that the holy father was able to appear, even if it was out the window of the Gemelli Hospital today. I think that kind of put aside some of those skeptics who were saying that the holy father is not going to be able to make any kind of public appearances.

So it was reassuring to see the holy father bless the world community today as he did. I was particularly happy with that.

WALLACE: Cardinal George, as you point out though, there obviously are concerns about the pope's health going down the line. By all accounts, at this point, he is still mentally sharp and able to communicate at least by writing. But he is 84 years old. He's had Parkinson's disease for a decade, and now he has these breathing problems.

If — and I repeat if — his condition should worsen, what would it mean for the church if you had a pope, a person who's leading the church, who's incapacitated?

GEORGE: It depends. Physical incapacitation, of course, doesn't bother anyone. The ability to make the major decisions is still obviously very much with him. And he still writes. He's writing memoirs all the time. So, as long as that ability is there, the bureaucracy of the church is set up, particularly under the cardinal secretary of state, Cardinal Sodano, to keep the ordinary business going.

And then there is the other side of the pope's role, which is precisely to witness to Jesus Christ, and that is stronger than ever.

So we'll see. If the pope should become comatose, that would create a different kind of a problem. And there may be something that we're not yet aware of in Rome to take care of that situation.

WALLACE: Well, let me just follow up on that. I assume that nobody outside of the pope could make a decision for him to step down. So when you say that there might be something, that would be the possibility that he has already put in place, you know, a written statement that he could — that he would step down if he were incapacitated.

Is that what you're suggesting?

GEORGE: Well, others have said that. I am not sure. We are just not sure exactly what he might have put in place, but this is a very responsible man. You're right, the pope is free; he's the only one that can say, "I've now resigned." And we have to have a certain trust also in God's providence over his church that we won't be left at an impasse.

WALLACE: Ambassador Flynn, obviously the whole world is praying for the pope's recovery, but we are clearly approaching the beginning of the end of the era of John Paul. And we've put together some pictures to show what an extraordinary era it's been, more than 26 years now.

Ambassador, let's talk about the pope's political legacy, with his visits to his native Poland, his support for Solidarity.

How central a role do you believe he played in the fall of the Soviet empire?

FLYNN: Oh, I think he had a critical role in not only leading history, but talking with him, but also talking with Mikhail Gorbachev, talking with Lech Walesa, talking with Ronald Reagan. I had the opportunity of talking with these — General Jaruzelski in Poland, who was the head of the Communist Party. I had the opportunity of talking with a number of these people, as well as the holy father himself.

I know the holy father doesn't take credit for it, but Ronald Reagan made it very clear to me, Jaruzelski made it clear to me, Gorbachev made it clear to me, when they said that, if it were not for the moral voice of John Paul II, particularly in his first visit to Poland after becoming leader of the Roman Catholic Church, it would not have united the people of Poland and rallied behind freedom of religion, freedom of opportunity.

FLYNN: And as a result of that, it emboldened the Solidarity labor movement. It united Catholics, not only in Poland but then it went to Czechoslovakia, to the rest of the Eastern European countries, all the way to Moscow and to the Berlin Wall.

So, you know, I'm just repeating history. He had a profound impact in the history, in modern history, but particularly with the collapse of communism.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Cardinal George.

You know, the numbers are remarkable. The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, the third-longest pontificate in the history of the church. And, of course, those are just the numbers.

Cardinal, what do you think is Pope John Paul's biggest contribution to the church?

GEORGE: Well, he served very well as successor of Saint Peter as bishop of Rome and, in that sense, as center of unity. He has been very clear in expressing the epistolic faith that unites us to Christ and to all Catholics through the centuries. And he's done it in a way that brought a more contemporary, philosophical terminology into the teaching without in any sense compromising the epistolic faith. As a teacher, therefore, he has an influence.

I think as a mystic, he has an influence. He's a man who lives clearly with God. And I think that inspires a lot of young people. It's why they react to a very elderly man, because there's always something contemporary about somebody who lives with God.

He's a missionary. And I think now in a certain sense, he's a martyr in the sense that you can see him uniting his sufferings with Christ.

So the impact in the history of the church is immense. This is a truly great pontificate, a truly remarkable human being.

WALLACE: Cardinal George, whether it's soon or whether it's years from now, at some point the College of Cardinals will convene in the Sistine Chapel in Rome to pick his successor. You will be one of those people, those electors.

GEORGE: Unless he outlives me, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, of course that's a possibility.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: That's indeed a possibility.

WALLACE: Have you thought at all about your vote for a possible — for the next successor?

GEORGE: Yes and no. As his health weakens, naturally it would be irresponsible not to think about that, at least in your own heart and in your own prayers.

But I think you have to start, not with people, but rather what are the challenges to the mission of the church. When (inaudible) was elected, the great challenge to the mission of the church was communism. They elected somebody who knew it from the inside and had experienced it and knew it intellectually better than the Marxists themselves.

So you have to start with what are the challenges to the mission of the church, and then you work back from there.

FLYNN: And as a result of that, it emboldened the Solidarity labor movement. It united Catholics, not only in Poland but then it went to Czechoslovakia, to the rest of the Eastern European countries, all the way to Moscow and to the Berlin Wall.

So, you know, I'm just repeating history. He had a profound impact in the history, in modern history, but particularly with the collapse of communism.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Cardinal George.

You know, the numbers are remarkable. The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, the third-longest pontificate in the history of the church. And, of course, those are just the numbers.

Cardinal, what do you think is Pope John Paul's biggest contribution to the church?

GEORGE: Well, he served very well as successor of Saint Peter as bishop of Rome and, in that sense, as center of unity. He has been very clear in expressing the epistolic faith that unites us to Christ and to all Catholics through the centuries. And he's done it in a way that brought a more contemporary, philosophical terminology into the teaching without in any sense compromising the epistolic faith. As a teacher, therefore, he has an influence.

I think as a mystic, he has an influence. He's a man who lives clearly with God. And I think that inspires a lot of young people. It's why they react to a very elderly man, because there's always something contemporary about somebody who lives with God.

He's a missionary. And I think now in a certain sense, he's a martyr in the sense that you can see him uniting his sufferings with Christ.

So the impact in the history of the church is immense. This is a truly great pontificate, a truly remarkable human being.

WALLACE: Cardinal George, whether it's soon or whether it's years from now, at some point the College of Cardinals will convene in the Sistine Chapel in Rome to pick his successor. You will be one of those people, those electors.

GEORGE: Unless he outlives me, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, of course that's a possibility.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: That's indeed a possibility.

WALLACE: Have you thought at all about your vote for a possible — for the next successor?

GEORGE: Yes and no. As his health weakens, naturally it would be irresponsible not to think about that, at least in your own heart and in your own prayers.

But I think you have to start, not with people, but rather what are the challenges to the mission of the church. When Karol Wojtyla was elected, the great challenge to the mission of the church was communism. They elected somebody who knew it from the inside and had experienced it and knew it intellectually better than the Marxists themselves.

So you have to start with what are the challenges to the mission of the church, and then you work back from there.

WALLACE: Like any institution, there is politics in the church. Are coalitions forming, Cardinal? Are some of the papabile, the leading candidates for pope, are they beginning to meet with some of their other cardinals, the prospective electors?

GEORGE: Well, not to my knowledge.

WALLACE: And coalitions — I mean, there's no talk for instance among the American cardinals about possible names or possible at least ideas as to what...

GEORGE: We haven't spoken about possible names among ourselves, the seven American cardinals.

WALLACE: Ambassador Flynn, let me ask you about this, because as not only an ambassador but, for those who don't know, also the former mayor of Boston, you understand this from a couple of aspects.

We asked you for a list of the papabile, the prospective candidates, and you came up with these three names. Let's take a look at them: Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan, Italy, Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, and Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras.

Is there a clear favorite here?

FLYNN: No, there's no clear favorite, I don't think. Really, nobody knows. I say that because I agree with Cardinal George: Instead of talking about the individuals, you have to talk about where the church is — the Catholic Church is growing in large numbers, and it's becoming a real powerful, strong church from the standpoint of its faith.

That is certainly in Central and Latin America. It is also the case in Africa. Now, we know the story in the United States, the church has had its series of problems and it's been exposed and highlighted, sometimes sensationalized by the media, unfortunately unfairly in many respects.

But by the same token, the church is very strong and vibrant and growing in places like Central and Latin America and in Africa. That's why I used the names of people like Francis Cardinal Arinze from Nigeria and I used the names of somebody from Central and Latin America. And of course, as you mentioned, an Italian has held the papacy for 453 years before Karol Wojtyla.

And so, you know, there's the three areas. But, you know, when they went into the conclave in 1978, nobody expected Karol Wojtyla to emerge as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

And Cardinal George is right, you have to look at where the church is strong, where the needs are. It's no longer the issue of communism. But I'll tell you, even listening to John McCain on your program just earlier, Chris, it seems to me that the issues of peace and justice and world stability are big issues and religious fanaticism, instability, injustice. I think those are big issues in the Middle East, and I think they're issues across the world.

So you're going to need somebody who's going to be able to bring stability and that moral voice to those very, very critical issues that affect not only the church but affect the world community and peace and stability.

WALLACE: And finally, let me bring back Greg Burke in Rome outside Gemelli Hospital.

What next for this pope who continues to be full of surprises?

BURKE: Well, I think in the immediate future, it's going to be a long stay in the hospital. We're expecting a medical bulletin tomorrow.

They don't normally give us a lot of information there, but from the information leaking out of the hospital here, the 10th floor, it looks like, first of all, a long stay, and then we have to look to see how the pope does in future public appearances. And the big question really is how well he'll be able to speak.

WALLACE: Cardinal George, Ambassador Flynn and Greg Burke, thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts about this very special man.

GEORGE: Thank you.

FLYNN: Thank you.