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. Umejesi

    We need a pope from Africa, especially Nigeria.

    February 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Umejesi

    We a pope from Africa, especially Nigeria.

    February 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  3. john leeds

    Atheists, humanists whatever they call themselves have always denied any beliefs so it is nothing new to find the same old ,I do not believe ,it’s just alode of crap we are enlightened and all of you are in delusion. The trouble with atheistic humanism is they do not utter anything with a positive outcome, so they are going to think about it,and yes the new prayer its the21centuary prayer

    February 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • clarity

      I lost you starting here:

      " so they are going to think about it,and yes the new prayer its the21centuary prayer"

      February 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Kristophorus

      A lot of atheists spend their whole lives denying and disproving the existence God. What a waste time to spend on. They could have focused 100% of their time doing good for humanity instead (unless they're part of the dark side, which they may or may not be aware of).

      February 28, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  4. Why

    Why are they all FAT and wearing dresses????

    February 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Robert martin

      They are wearing those lace adorned frocks because all the cardinals are closeted drag queens!

      February 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • dupledge

      When any man of rank has to make an important decision he will don a dress. Judges, Cardinals, Lawyers Kings of history ...

      February 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
  5. EricB

    If any one candidate read and practiced the truth of the bible in its entirety, they probably would come to the stark realization that they have no qualifications due to the fact that they conduct thier beliefs on tradition rather than truth and fact.

    February 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • dupledge

      prior to any bible there was only tradition. The Catholics merely collected all the trusted sources and put then together in the bible you read today. Catholics believe that tradition and the bible all work together to give the deposit of faith.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  6. Jehovah

    You see ridicule...so do i, now vote for somebody who is going to push that vomit back down its throat where it belongs...

    February 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "You see ridicule."
      You have options if you don't like to be ridiculed. As I mentioned below, you could stop displaying your silly beliefs on a public forum. You could also take a stand and bring an argument as to why you are correct in your beliefs (good luck with that one). Or you could simply open your eyes and shed your infantile beliefs.

      If you wish to remain blissfully ignorant, this is not the place for you.

      February 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • dupledge

      @linCA you cross examination if one of ridicule not of arguement. As soon as you use words like "silly" you call on ridicule as you friend. It matters not that I come to you with why "I" believe in God to you all that matters is that you ridicule me and others about this belief/faith. You cannot rob me of my faith with any arguement you put forward because your view suggests that all things must be measurable whereas my view does not.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So I guess you've never heard the saying, "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen"?

      If you post on a public blog and expect to be treated with kid gloves, you're naive.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  7. Jehovah

    They deny the right to exist, they persecute and ridicule people who do not share their beliefs, who am i talking about radical islamists ?....No i am talking about athiests...pope me let me rip em...x

    February 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "They deny the right to exist, they persecute and ridicule people who do not share their beliefs, who am i talking about radical islamists ?....No i am talking about athiests...pope me let me rip em...x"
      You are free to cling to your infantile beliefs. You are free to worship as you see fit. You are not free to from ridicule if you spout your nonsense on a public blog.

      If you don't want your silly beliefs questioned, I recommend you keep them to yourself.

      February 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • you-know-i-got-a-BS-meter-right?

      I am not atheist, nor Catholic, or christian, but i'm open minded to the beliefs of others and current events. Stories of prominence and belief are important to follow in order to be clear and compatible with the people you are around, and your IGNORANCE is not helping you to be a better person or making you "stronger" because you only respect your own ideas but don't care about any other person;s thoughts. Even though you don't agree you have some nerve to show it how you do. why get upset because people BELIEVE something? they have thoughts just like you do and I respect every point of view. But what I can't tolerate is ignorance and clear refusal to respect, at least repect if you don't agree with them, people's opinions. If you believe something you stick to it with it, without trying to knock people down. You I see are a stereotypical ass and are no worse than a "radical Islamist"

      February 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • dupledge

      @linCA once again you tell me and others that I am to expect ridicule if I sprout my "infantile beliefs" on a public blog. What I expect from a public blog is civiilty not childish puerile banter. You say I am free to express my beliefs on a public forum yet you try to stifle and bully me and others for doing just that. I can only hope others are more respectful.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  8. Jehovah

    POPE ME.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • dupledge

      Only if your are a baptised male Catholic!

      February 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  9. A Frayed Knot

    I sure hope they don't choose that Abe Vigoda look-alike (3rd from the right in the picture)!

    February 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Cheryl

      Ahhh, Abe Vigoata.....Mr. Fish from "Barney Miller." Mr. Fish would make a great pope. LOL!

      February 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  10. Stephen Swain

    Why is there still such a disproportionate representation from Italy in the College of Cardinals? According to the article, 28 out of 118 cardinals eligible to vote are from Italy. That represents almost 24% of the electors. That strikes me as grossly disproportionate. Are there 240 million Italian christians? No. Something is out of kilter at Vatican City, obviously.

    February 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  11. Paulo

    I think as the German pope failed and resigned they will choose an Italian pope. This is my opinion. I think they will close and no further chance to open a porridge out of europe. I'm not Catholic but I'm from Brazil and would be cool a pope of Brazil. It is the largest Catholic country in the world and the church ignore Brazil the number of faithful tend to decrease even more. In 1960 90% of Brazilians were Catholics. Now dropped to 65%. And if fool drops further. I believe that Brazil is a poor country for a long time because of the great influence of Catholics. Catholics have a negative view of money as something evil person and should only earn the minimum to survive. It was only decrease the influence of Catholics in Brazil that Brazil has become the world's sixth largest economy. In my opinion Protestants could increase even more in Brazil. Then the Brazil leave this tradition behind poverty. It's good to ignore the church Brazil that there fail to be a poor country because of the negative view that Catholics have the money. I do not know how it is in other countries in Latin America but the masses are almost an indoctrination against money.

    February 18, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Paulo

      While U.S. and Canada being rich is considered a good thing because the great Protestant influence in Brazil is almost to be rich to be a demon in the Catholic view. As a country becomes rich if the majority of the population believes that this is something evil?

      February 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  12. balij

    Who will succeed Him???

    An Exclusive List of Candidates who can succeed him is given at

    wallstnews.blogspot com

    February 18, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  13. Angela

    its who CIA will approve!

    February 18, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Stephen Swain

      And that, my dear lady, is truly funny. The CIA have their hands full with a lot of other things more pressing to them than the election of a pope, unless you believe all the fantasies about jillions of dollars in the Vatican bank.

      February 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  14. Skorpio

    The Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church consists of more than 20 Catholic churches in full communion with Rome, in theory any of those Catholic Patriarchs could be elected as the new Pope. Its about time to bring back the papacy to the Middle East, perhaps a new Arab pope could create a new influx of millions of Muslim converts to Christianity.

    February 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • frankb2910

      Muslims converting to Christianity ? What good will that do? All religions instigates conflict and war. The main source of hatred is religion. As Christopher once said Religion should be treated with ridicule.

      February 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • frankb2910

      I meant to say Christopher Hithens

      February 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • dupledge

      Actually, any baptised male Catholic can be elected as Pope.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  15. Primero Moncada

    If CNN always suggest that the new Pope could possibly be one from outside "Western" and CNN always suggest that Latin America is not Western, if there is a region outside western where there are more Catholics than western itself, that is Latin America, and CNN always ask if the new pope would be from their favourites regions: Asia or Africa, and always forget to mention CNN´s backyard LATINAMERICA.

    February 17, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Saraswati

      The "latin" elements of Latin America are, pretty much by definition "western". The elements that remain from pre-western times are not. Argentina would be a predominantly western Latin American country. Bolivia, for example, less so.

      February 17, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  16. M.A.D

    In orange jump suites, they look like chain gang people.

    February 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
  17. Brian32

    The Vatican is so corrupt at this point there is no point in electing a new Pope. Please do everyone a favor and shut it down. It will forever be remembered as the head quarters of pedophilia. It should now be a place to mourn the children who lost their innocence to predators around the world that the Catholic Church covered up and condoned.

    February 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  18. Skorpio

    It is about time to have any of the more of 20 Catholic churches in fully communion with Rome to elect a Patriarch as the new Pope and return the papacy to the Middle East. Perhaps it could trigger millions of new Muslim converts to Christianity.

    February 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  19. brown

    Haha! Humans still practicing their silly rituals. These fools are no closer to whatever exists in the Universe than the panhandler in the middle of a busy intersection.

    February 16, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Kristophorus

      A lot of atheists spend their whole lives denying and disproving the existence God. What a waste time to spend on. They could have focused 100% of their time doing good for humanity instead (unless they're part of the dark side, which they may or may not be aware of).

      February 28, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  20. John the Historian

    Where is Vatican III ??? Still waiting as a Gay Catholic. Get out of the Middle Ages. Nothing wrong with birth control. Nothing wrong with priests and nuns getting married. Nothing wrong with Gays and Lesbians. Hope to see the update and reform very soon.

    February 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • frankb2910

      You will have a long wait the see reform in the church my friend. To make reform in the Catholic Church is to admit that the writings in the bible are nothing more then outdated myths.

      February 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      vatican will never support fornication, deviancy or destruction of unborn life.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      deviancy -> gay & lesbian, p3doph1le, b3stial, etc
      fornication -> easy divorce, premarital s3x, extramerital s3x. encouraged by birth control.
      desctruction of unborn life -> birth control, ab0rt1on

      destroying tradition -> married clergy

      so there.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:18 am |
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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.