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. cuc re

    do an dem | mua re

    December 18, 2013 at 4:01 am |
  2. cuc re

    When I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    December 18, 2013 at 3:59 am |
  3. patriciasears65

    Reblogged this on patriciasears65 and commented:
    Well we all know who the new POPE is but Buddy my husband MARCUS PENN IS DEAD. Now will the new Pope change what the Catholic Church is doing to seniors in Victory Tower in Takoma Park, MD and other of its properties where they conduct experiments? NO the Pope wants these experiments to be used and what are they used for? World domination through behavior control using language skills built on whatever is your mother tongue. It can control 1 or 1000 easily and many more. It can kill you instantly but not harm the person sitting next to you even if they are on your lap or in your arms. My husband was injured from these experiments in April and September 2011. They used Hebrew him being Jewish but he was Dyslexic and read mostly in English having gone to public schools not Jewish schools. I survived just scared for him, I heard and saw it but did not know one word of Hebrew. It was Greek to me. This building has people from all over the world a good source to test on. The project is complete ready for use so watch out you will no longer have free will if used on you unless you learn how to cope with it. I've learned a lot but always fear after 8 years of exposure when they enter a new stage. Adjustment is painful risky but I do it every time with techniques I've learned having identified it from a quality control angle. The authors of the plans were human and were error prone, just find where they made assumptions and "Reverse the Curse". More details of how to cope will be given to those who ask and have a need to know like all Jews which are a prime target and their youth in worst danger. Watch the schools. That's one place the Catholics are going with it so Jewish children will be so afflicted by control system as to never know what free will thinking is like. American taxpayers footed the bill for these experiments.

    June 12, 2013 at 4:41 am |
  4. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    The ONE person who should be named Pope – I DON'T GIVE A DAMN...

    March 12, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  5. Free chatline

    The core of your writing whilst sounding reasonable originally, did not really work properly with me personally after some time. Somewhere within the paragraphs you actually managed to make me a believer but only for a while. I nevertheless have a problem with your leaps in assumptions and one would do nicely to fill in those breaks. In the event that you can accomplish that, I will undoubtedly be impressed.

    March 12, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  6. Cindy

    The US media seems to be ignoring Cardinal Ouellette who has more of a chance than those mentioned here.

    March 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  7. patriciasears65

    Cardinal Wuerl should not be allowed to participate as long as he and others in DC area Catholic leadership allow murder to occur in 82 U.S. hospitals owned by Trinity-Health such as Holy Cross hospital in SIlver Spring, MD where STARVATION and DEHYDRATION and REMOVAL of OXYGEN MASK are practices used to bring seriously ill and seniors to pre-mature death. This is murder and it is happening to Marcus Penn 75 and blind, right now. His Advance Directive being violated and he is not being allowed to transfer to another hospital; any hospital where he would get normal care. 5 days before death order he was being processed for discharge. Who gave the order? Why? Is it because he is Jewish? Or is it because we complained of the starvation and dehydration which are practices which violate instructions from the POPE for "normal care". If you were about to be considered for the respected postion of POPE you would not want anyone to know you were involved in implementing policies which allow murder. It should bar all U.S. Catholic leadership that allow it in their jurisdictions from participating in selection of POPE until they stop this conspiracy to commit murders at will and on a large scale in many states. Is Cardinal Timothy Dolan allowing it in his area as well in Catholic hospitals? Pray for Mr. Penn and all those in his same desperate situation, please.

    March 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  8. David

    The next pope is Peter Turkson and he will be the final pope who will destroy the Catholic Church and Rome. Mark my words.

    March 8, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • midwest rail


      March 8, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • End Religion

      The next pope is Spongebob Squarepants and he will be the final pope who will destroy the Catholic Church and Rome. Mark my words.

      March 8, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  9. Joseph ikpaha

    I think a chance should be given to the masses for selection of thier pope...bearing in mind that majority carries the vote...
    But be it as it may;;;when a right MAN leadeth or Be on throne it the masses that rejoyce...
    And i blieved the cardinals should pray for Godwil to be DONE. Amen

    March 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  10. Ahmed Tjiani Umar

    Yes let's the pop decide but i prefer should come from Africa.thank you

    March 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  11. Kat

    It would be only fitting if the next Pope comes from Latin America, Asia or Africa since that is where the Catholic Church seems to be growing. However, the Catholic Church has always been dominated by white men from Europe & that is still true. If the next Pope is not a white European I would be shocked...that is I would be if I was not already a recovering Catholic.

    February 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Terry

      I'm a recovring Myrthaholic

      February 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Terry

      Mithra is the real son of God and all you non-believers are going to burn in hell.

      February 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  12. Kristophorus

    I think the next pope should come from Latin America. He's from the majority group, and has the first hand experience on the big issue of poverty. Plus he wouldn't be that 'different' from his European peers.

    An American pope is not practical from political and socio-economic points of view. The US cannot hold too much power in almost all realms of human endeavors. Although the church could use some of American's traits like openness, informality, light humor, friendliness, etc. which I think appeal to the younger generation.

    An Asian pope from the Philippines (3rd largest catholic country) would not work either. Although he has the big-population and poverty advantages, a Filipino pope could probably not live up to the hugely Western leadership style and expectations. He has some Latin side but too Asian still. And his local church is too intertwined with the affairs of the state and has gazillion of problems. Can't manage his own house; how would he conduct business on the world stage.

    Catholics may not be ready to welcome another pope from Africa. Just because the region has the highest growth rate now doesn't necessarily mean the leadership should come from there. Unless a star African cardinal has already been making waves in the Vatican working on high-profile committees and taking key leadership roles. Although it would be very interesting to have an African pope.

    Italy is a safe bet, but too predictable and boring.

    Bonne chance, France. But probably no.

    God works in mysterious ways though. May the fittest man gets elected.

    February 28, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  13. jehovah

    Let the pope decide.....

    February 27, 2013 at 11:13 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.