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. The Dead Critic

    Here's a clue......THINK along the lines of Bible Prophecy...

    February 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  2. WachetAuf

    No chance in hell. All you need to do is look at the photo up top. All old white guys.

    February 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  3. rATL

    If they want to get some younger buts in the seats they might want to try electing someone who ISN'T three breaths away from death. I mean really, do they all have to be ancient and creepy looking?

    February 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  4. McDuck Quackerton

    Just disband the antiquated hate mongering organization and be done with it.

    February 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  5. yuri pelham

    a woman would better protect our children

    February 14, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  6. richunix

    But to answer the question asked in the article: The next Pope should be someone young enough to live longer than 5 years, embrace the Catholic beliefs and be willing to work toward better communication between its message and its congregation. However bashing the Pope or its organization will not achieve any goal. The majority of the followers of the Catholic religion mean well and for the most part very good people.

    From and Atheist

    Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    February 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  7. Christian

    Leave the Pope alone. All you Godless Pope and Catholic bashers must of voted for YOUR God Barack HUSSEIN Oblame-o. He's your Anti-Christ Savior just like Adolph Hitler was Germany's Anti-Christ Savior and everyone knows what a ruler who don't believe in God does. DESTROY A NATION!!! RIP America! I hope all the Obozo voters are the first to go.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • richunix

      Wow whatever happen to the Christian belief....of Love....but then followers of mths..well they believe anythning including the TALLS tails and feat s fo magic from 2000 years ago....Which reminds me BAR-NON have ever wittnessed then or seen today.

      Here is a repost :
      Exactly. Teach them the following 10 Commandments..
      1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.

      2. DO NOT think that claims about magic, miracles and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.

      3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.

      4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars want to prohibit you from looking under the hood.

      5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and ghouls and believing in any of them does not make one moral.

      6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should you believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.

      7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?

      8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of God,” “God is outside the Universe” or “God moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.

      9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?

      10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.

      February 14, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • GOD of ALL GODS

      as usual the religious are spouting off

      February 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  8. math

    even borgia didnt resign...

    February 14, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  9. Gary

    How about Darth Vader or Darth Maul for pope? Aren't they next in line?

    February 14, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • richunix

      My vote is for Darth Vader.....Luke I'm your father...not sure about that...cuz Popes can't marry....at lest women.

      February 14, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  10. AllUH

    Why don't they just make a soap Pope on a rope and worship it? It's the same thing, worshipping false idols. Any sane person realizes we came from aliens, and are still being manipulated by them. Religion has retarded mankind back about 10,000 years.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  11. Daniel

    Who f'ing cares? Western religions are total bs. Time to join the 21st century. As long as humans believe that "we" are the center of everything we will never grow...COMPLETE IDIOTS....

    February 14, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Lindsay

      so true. so many ignorant people. we need to look up at the universe.

      February 14, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  12. marinedad05

    The next Pope?

    Well, we already have the 'Pope From Greenwich Village'. Just promote him.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  13. IsalandAtheist

    Just disband the criminal organization.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  14. Liberty

    Well we know for sure on qualification is to either have been a child molester or be willing to turn the other cheek and look away

    February 14, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  15. norman romero


    February 14, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  16. karek40

    Who will be the next pope, wasn't that question answered in 1148, its Peter the Roman.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • midwest rail

      The Malachy "prophecies" are nonsense.

      February 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  17. MCF

    How about an AMERICAN Pope? Brazil may have the largest number of catholics, but the USA provides most of the money. Think not? Trace the holdings of the Vatican Bank (and subsidiaries) in the US. You will be surprized!! All legal.

    February 14, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  18. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    I nominate Jeremy Irons! After all, he plays a Pope on TV!

    February 14, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  19. Tom Iron

    I'm sure the moron cardinals will put kneegrow in as pope...

    February 14, 2013 at 7:06 am |
    • Danielle

      Well maybe the 'kneegrow' wont cover up peepee touchers like this guy did...Go back under your racist rock

      February 14, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • 2EL8

      I'm thinking Jerry Sandusky.

      February 14, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  20. motive

    The catholic church doesn't need parishioners for money, only for leverage to enhance their lobby effort such as stopping laws that would expose pedos and the worst crimes of cover up.

    We must remember how the church got its wealth; swindling, threatening, donations, grant money and gifts. Yet all their wealth could feed the poor and starving word wide and they choose to gather more wealth instead. The popes gold chair alone would feed so many.

    February 14, 2013 at 7:01 am |
    • upstateny

      ...motive and this differs from what other religion? The list is endless of preachers of all faiths that preach to help the impoverished and underprivilaged while they drive away from their theater type churches in their Mercedes Benz.

      February 14, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • motive

      time to tax these religions and their property too. I agree.

      February 14, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • AllUH

      Why don't they just make a soap Pope on a rope and worship it? It's the same thing, worshipping false idols. Any sane person realizes we came from aliens, and are still being manipulated by them. Religion has retarded mankind back about 10,000 years.

      February 14, 2013 at 11:00 am |
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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.