A NORTH-EAST bishop has paid tribute to the "extraordinary human being", who was the late Pope.

But the Right Reverend John Crowley, Roman Catholic Bishop of Middlesbrough, is not taking any bets on who will succeed John Paul II.

As secretary to the late Cardinal Basil Hulme, who as leader of Britain's five million Catholics was a member of the last Conclave of Cardinals, the future bishop of Middlesbrough was in Rome for the election of Pope John Paul.

The bishop said Karol Josef Wojtyla had been such an outsider the Italian newspapers had not even bothered to photograph him as one of those attending the meeting of cardinals, 26 years ago.

He said: "He came out of the blue. He was totally unexpected.

"He was an extraordinary human being - a man of theology, a playwright, a poet, athlete.

"There was the extraordinary part he played in the collapse of totalitarianism in eastern Europe, which obviously started in his own country but had a domino effect."

The bishop met the pontiff four times. During an in-depth exchange, Pope John Paul II questioned him on his diocese, which stretches from Middlesbrough to Hull.

He asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the diocese, and fondly remembered his visit to York in 1982.

As for a successor, the bishop said: "I am not wanting to speculate. Wherever they come from, they will bring their particular gifts."

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod) in the North-East is mourning the death of the Pope.

Anne-Marie Hanlon, regional organiser for the North-East, said: "The Pope was a tireless champion of justice and peace who has been an inspiration for our work and our supporters.

"He was a global figure, but he was also someone who touched people personally, through his teaching, which so often addressed the global issues of our time, and through his visits around the world.

"He challenged all of us to live our faith, with its radical values and principles, more deeply."