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Could the next pope be from Africa or Latin America?
February 11th, 2013
01:18 PM ET

Could the next pope be from Africa or Latin America?

By Eric Marrapodi and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

(CNN) – Hours after Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement Monday, speculation was surging over who might be his successor and what part of the world the new pontiff could be from.

The 118 cardinals who will pick the next pope are also in the running for the job. Those cardinals are from around the globe, but more than half of them hail from European nations, according to Vatican statistics.

Worldwide, the demographic trends among the Roman Catholic Church's nearly 1.2 billion members show a different breakdown, with the church seeing only a trickle of new members in Europe, while membership has grown significantly in Africa.

So this time around, could the pope be from Africa, where growth has surged significantly, or from Latin America, a longtime bastion for the church?

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"It's always one of those exciting things. I bet there will be a line in Vegas, there probably already is," said Randall Woodard, an associate professor of theology at Saint Leo University.

"Especially based on the growth of Catholicism and ... the geographic shifts that have taken place, a lot of smart money would be on Africa or Central America."

Some stressed that the pope's geographic background shouldn't be a factor.

"All of the questions about nationalities are nonsense," said Michael Sean Winters, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. "There are 118 men, and all of them have gotten to know one another. ... Their questions are going to be 'who can we see in that chair?'"

For many in Italy, the choice is already clear, according to John Allen, CNN's senior Vatican analyst.

"Around the dinner tables today in Rome, Cardinal Angelo Scola has the pole position," Allen said Monday.

Scola, an Italian, is the archbishop of Milan.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican's office of bishops, is also a likely frontrunner, said Allen. And Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, an Argentinian who works as the Vatican prefect overseeing eastern churches, is well-known for his leadership and administrative skills, Allen said.

'The face of Catholicism'

Another top contender for the papacy could be Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, said Woodard, the managing editor of the International Journal of African Catholicism. The 64-year-old cardinal currently heads the pope's council for justice and peace and has experience working with people of different faiths, Woodard said.

"He would be able to respond to global needs and ... the reality of what the face of Catholicism is," Woodard said.

In Brazil - which leads the world with more than 133 million Catholics, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life - many were buzzing about Benedict's resignation announcement Monday.

"The country has a tradition of Catholicism, and any news related to the pope is very important news in Brazil. ... There are those experts saying that maybe the time has come for a cardinal from the developing world, Africa or Latin America, to ascend to the papacy," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Catholic faithful gathered at a religious celebration in Brazil's capital Monday said they were surprised by the news of Benedict's resignation and hopeful that Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz might be picked for the papacy, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported.

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But choosing the next pope is an issue that must rise above geographic borders, said the Reverend Emmanuel Katongole, a Catholic priest from Uganda's Kampala archdiocese who is an associate professor of theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"Part of the frustration for me is that there is a thinking that Africa's challenges and the opportunities and the interests can only be advanced if we have an African pope," Katongole said. "I find it extremely frustrating when in my vision, the church is a transnational communion of believers whose identity and loyalty cuts across these geopolitical boundaries."

Cardinals prepare to decide

While people outside the church may focus on nationalities and race, within the church's top ranks, cardinals have "a very global vision," Woodard said.

"The pope has to be the visible shepherd of 1 billion Catholics in the world," said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. "I don't think going into the conclave the pope has to be of a certain nationality."

Other factors are important, Paprocki said, like the age of the next pope.

"It's a grueling and demanding schedule to keep up with," he said.

Pope Benedict, who is 85 years old, said Monday that he will resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."

"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," the pope said, according to the Vatican.

Age is also a factor for cardinals. Once a cardinal reaches 80, he is no longer able to participate in the election of the pope or enter the secret conclave where cardinals gather to select the next pope.

Of the 118 cardinals of voting age, 28 are from Italy, 34 are from elsewhere in Europe, 19 are from Latin America, 14 are from the United States and Canada, 11 are from Asia, 11 are from Africa and 1 is from Australia.

Cardinals will meet to choose Benedict's successor sometime after his official resignation on February 28, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said at a news conference.

"Before Easter, we will have the new pope," he said.

Benedict won't be involved in the decision, Lombardi said. But his influence will undoubtedly be felt. Benedict appointed 67 the 118 cardinals who will make the decision.

It's a choice that Cardinal Donald Wuerl said he doesn't take lightly.

"When we go into the conclave, what has to be upper in the minds of all of us is what is God asking of us in making a choice. Who will fill the chair of Peter? And I think that's going to be the only consideration," said Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. "Who among this body has the qualifications, the characteristics, the spiritual gifts to fill that chair?"

Wuerl told reporters that he was in his study at 5 a.m. Monday preparing a homily for Ash Wednesday when he found out about the pope's decision.

"This is very startling," he said. "I was totally unprepared for it."

Wuerl is a top American contender for the papacy, according to Allen. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, could also be considered, but both Americans would be on the "C or D list" of candidates, Allen said.

While only the church's inner circle will know what goes on inside the conclave, bookmakers were quick to set the odds over who will be the top contenders.

Two online betting sites listed Turkson as a favorite Monday. London-based William Hill plc and Dublin-based Paddy Power both gave him 3-1 odds.

CNN's Michael Pearson, Hada Messia and Kyle Almond contributed to this report.

Full Coverage: The pope resigns

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Africa • Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • South America

soundoff (648 Responses)
  1. sureitsreal

    What a bunch of ignorant posts that sound like they were written by second-graders. There is some sentiment that the next pope will be from South America or Africa. But all is speculation.

    February 14, 2013 at 6:55 am |
  2. brown

    Who would want to be the next King of Pedophiles?

    February 14, 2013 at 6:07 am |
    • Pink

      Your dad

      February 14, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  3. Junkers jenna

    we are lutheran, so we could not care any less!

    February 14, 2013 at 5:38 am |
    • chad

      Then why even respond to the article? move on to stories pertaining to that manic-depressive, drunkard Martin Luther

      February 14, 2013 at 6:09 am |
  4. Eric Carney

    I would not be surprised if Barak Obama would try to worm his way into Rome to form a new connection to the world stage.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:17 am |
    • Really now

      I, on the other hand, would be shocked if dingbats with crackpot theories like your would ever learn how to spell correctly.

      February 14, 2013 at 3:39 am |
  5. Howard Clapp

    Next Pope: Tarcisio Pitro Bertone from Italy !!!!!!!!!

    He will call himself Peter Romanus !!!!!!!

    February 14, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • Well isn't that special

      You sound like Navin R. Johnson when the new phone book arrived.

      February 14, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • rory

      Brown eye Joe will be next

      February 14, 2013 at 3:39 am |
  6. Grumpy

    Who cares who the next Pope will be? What difference will it make? It will be yet another old greybeard male who lives in the 14th century!

    February 14, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  7. LOYAL NORTHERN DEMOCRAT

    It is too bad Michael Jackson died. He would have made a perfect pope.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  8. LOYAL NORTHERN DEMOCRAT

    The Nazi's do not make good popes as they suck too many times a day.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  9. bruhaha

    Nobody in there right mind takes these clowns seriously. When you have corrupt leadership that covers up the molestation of young children for decades and turns around and lectures everyone else on morality. Please.....the catholic Church is an sick embarrassment to religion.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  10. Samm J.

    How about Georgeous Georg for pope. It's possible under canon law.

    February 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  11. allenwoll

    .
    I have one right here outside my window ! ! !

    February 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  12. JAIN KALLARAKAL

    A CARDINAL FROM INDIA CAN BE THE NEXT POPE IF GOD WILLING.

    February 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Arvn Huac

      It's not "god willing," it's "if the political schemers in the orange lace dresses throw their weight behind you."

      February 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • flyonthewall

      Why? do they have bearded old men who molest children in india too?

      February 14, 2013 at 1:19 am |
    • sureitsreal

      That would be a shocker, but good luck!

      February 14, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • Saraswati

      I think it's not going to happen any time soon because the very westernness and Europenness of Christianity is still a recruiting factor in the growth regions and a maintenance factor at "home". Eastern religions pull a large share of their western converts in a similar way. You sell the product as a complete package with an image. Their best bet would be someone from the America's ( not the US though) with a latin connection.

      February 14, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  13. JR

    John Paul II!!!

    February 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • clarity

      What do you want to do – dig him up and prop him up and send him around in the pope mobile like Bernie?

      February 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • Zingo

      You may as well have a corpse: Benedict has been one for years.

      February 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  14. Descarado

    Why would any Catholic look to anti-Catholic CNN for the answer of who might be the next Pope?

    February 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • keplerfan

      Dude, after the peadophile scandals "anti-Catholic" took on a new definition: Sanity!

      February 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • flyonthewall

      Why would anyone admit they were a catholic when all the priest are pedofiles, and the POOP doesnt even care or do anything about it.

      February 14, 2013 at 1:24 am |
  15. sybaris

    Who cares.

    That whole program needs to go away.

    Nothing but a bunch of old men in funny hats demeaning women and molesting little boys.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Angela Birch

      but they have such pretty dresses

      February 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  16. CatSh

    Cerebus for Pope! 'D

    February 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  17. JimboKnows

    By the way, your user interface on comments leaves something to be desired. Maybe you should outsource your web development.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  18. JimboKnows

    Just a guess. Most likely, it will be a celibate old man with a very limited range of life experience.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  19. JimboKnows

    Just guessing. Probably a celibate old man with a very limited set of perspectives on life.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  20. Jimbo

    Just guessing. Probably a celibate old man with a very limited set of perspectives on life.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.