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. #1Christ_Fan

    Catholics don't speak for Christ,and the Pope is the voice for Satan

    February 11, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Bingo

      You certainly don't speak for Christ, you must be Satan.

      February 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  2. B Schmitt

    Jesus Christ and his apostles were not Europeans, they had olive skin and dark hair. The Christian conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantin didn't happen until 300A.D.; thus before the Apostles of Christ had spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia. The Catholic church would truly represent her name if she finally elects a non-European pope.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Ken Margo


      February 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  3. PJ

    Has to be a third world. Enough of Italians and no more Germans for a while.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  4. Ben Franklin

    U.S.A. POPE !!!!!!!

    February 11, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  5. God

    As you’ve probably heard, the Pope has asked all the Cardinals to return to Rome. You know how they got them all to come back? They told them that there was going to be a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  6. God

    The Pope dies and, naturally, goes to heaven. He’s met by the reception committee and, after a whirlwind tour is told that he can enjoy any of the myriad recreations available. He decides that he wants to read all of the ancient original text of the Holy Scriptures, and spends the next eon or so learning the languages. After becoming a linguistics master, he sits down in the library and begins to pore over every version of the Bible, working back from the most recent “Easy Reading” to the original script. All of a sudden there is a scream in the library. The angels come running to him, only to find the Pope huddled in a chair, crying to himself, and muttering, “An ‘R’! They left out the ‘R’”.
    God takes him aside, offering comfort and asks him what the problem is. After collecting his wits, the Pope sobs again, “It’s the letter ‘R’… the word was supposed to be CELEBRATE.”

    February 11, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  7. God

    No matter where the next pope comes from, one thing's for sure: young boys better watch their backsides.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  8. just wondering

    Not all popes have been Catholic.
    Current pope was in an army that murdered 6 million Jews.
    Obama has never had an abortion so far as we know.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  9. lou50


    February 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  10. Jim

    A Pope from anywhere but the United States. The Catholic Church agrees with President Amadinijead. America is THE DEVIL!!!

    February 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  11. Alois Saint-Martin

    ROFLOL ! Give The "Jews" What They Want ? Given the utter condescending degradation of the Catholic Church,
    with regards to Her Socio-Political status, in the Modernist/Materialist/Capitalist/Bourgeois Globalizationist, Austerity besieged “Nations” about Her; It does not come as such an Unprecedented surprise, to find that Benedict XVI ( Cardinal Ratzinger ) has decided to retire from the Polemic of Israel's lost sheep. ( … and their shouts prevailed ? )

    The King of Spain will toss his Euro`s into the Mediterranean, Francois Hollande will
    wash his hands in the Sectarian Blood of Northern Africa, and Kate Middleton will give birth to the Anti-Christ; But make no mistake, Life will go on, Christmas is past, but the Easter Bunny is already at the doorstep.
    Even if Priests, are allowed to become LGBTQ Birth Control practicing Prime Time Talk Show Celebrity apologists; They will still be required to wash their hands with Soap and Water before sitting down for Sunday Dinner at Grandma`s …. Won't They ?

    February 11, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  12. Mandor

    I'm an athiest, so i guess it's not really my business one way or the other... but if they specifcally choose a pope BECAUSE he's from one part of the world or another, they're doing it wrong. At least, my understanding was they pick the best person for the job, given the direction the cardinals feel that God would want the church to move in. If that means they happen to choose a pope from Africa or Latin America, well, that's nice, but it should't be a big thing in and of itself.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Jim

      But there are a billion Catholics to choose from. Couldn't they likely find a pretty good Pope from just about anywhere? (except perhaps Germany)

      February 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      They could pick the "perfect person" It wont matter. He'll have as much influence as the last one. NONE.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  13. southernwonder

    there is some danger at this point that the white faithful might bolt if they get an african pope. civil rights are not still fully recognized at vatican unless you can present them as god's given rights supported in bible or that jesus would approve.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It won't be an African pope. More likely South American.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  14. just wondering

    Had the pope waited a couple years or if the cardinals delay their choice Obama will be looking for work.

    February 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Umm. Are you really that stupid?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • -.-

      AH HA HA HA HA HA oh, you're such the (t)wit.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • just wondering

      Are you questioning Obama' ability to lead and solve problems ?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'm questioning your grasp of reality, idiot.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • just wondering

      You are opposed to Obama on racial issues then.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hardly, moron. I'm opposed to your stupidity.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • just wondering

      So you are a closet racist then.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Only if you're a closet queen.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Gorsh

      The whole not being Catholic thing could be an issue. Also the ordering of thousands of people killed in our drone war (Opposed by the church) might hold him back. Then there is the whole abortion thing.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • just wondering

      It seems i've touched a nerve, lots of stuff in your closet queenie, racist ...what else

      February 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How many times did you boink your cousin, dear?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, if you want to out yourself, sweet cheeks, be my guest.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • just wondering

      Ok so far you've let slip you're a closet racist, queen, involved in incest with your cousin and way too interested in butts. That is one deep sick closet... keep it up is this cheaper for you than therapy perhaps you'll get cured.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I believe you're the one who's pursuing the conversation, darling. Have at it. You seem to be in your element.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • just wondering

      It is elementary tom you've exposed yourself to the www. Your father and I are so proud of you even if you are a reprobate queen, racist, incest ridden pervert. Let it all out you'll feel better.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • Really-O?

      This has to be on of the most stupid threads I've seen on this blog. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, just bitchslap this punk and put an end to this.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • just wondering

      Is that your cousin "really o" tom ?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's just another iteration of the same little needle-dick that's always yammering on here. The worst thing about him is that he's such dull company.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • just wondering

      You were gone for so long tom tom, oh that's right it was Monday evening the time you do your cousin how silly of us to forget. No one saw you slip out of your closet did they dear.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      just wondering, you need to enroll in Trolling 101. You're embarrassing yourself.

      February 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  15. Harharyar

    It's not a legitimate article from cnn until the issue of race makes an appearance

    February 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It’s not a representative meeting of US imbeciles until someone pipes up who’s too ignorant to realize that race issues do, in fact, matter.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Saraswati –

      It's unfortunate that in the 21st century you're still right. Especially given that race is a specious and discredited concept.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  16. Akira

    Living la vida popa...

    February 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  17. bspurloc

    Latin Americans are more devout than any christian since they are closer to the ancestors that were massacred by this very religion as heretics......

    February 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • Mandor

      I believe they were massacred as heathens, not as heretics. To be a heretic, don't you have to previously subscribe to the views and then turn away?

      February 11, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  18. Ken Margo

    I don't understand the idol worship of the pope? He doesn't solve any problems. Has no real influence. How many times has the pope said not to execute someone? Texas pats him no mind and keeps on killin. He's spoken out against wars. We still have battles. He spoken for the poor. Republicans hear that and ignore him. The man really is a empty suit.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Sorry typo Texas "pays" him no mind.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Tom

      51% of American adults are non-Catholic. Why would Republicans in America listen to the Pope?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Why does anyone listen Pope-a-Dope or any other religious charlatan? Because they are mentally ill?

      February 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Because republicans swear to be christian conservatives. Re pubs love to push the catholic crap all day.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Steve

      The Pope is considered a teacher not an idol.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @steve....And what lessons have you learned? How to hold little boys in the correct position to keep them from squirming.

      February 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Al

      He's the figurehead and the appointed spokesperson for the church. As such people look up to him the same way they look up to political leaders or teachers. Remember he's chosen by election; it's not a monarchy. Also, he does have some political power because he is the elected governing official of The Vatican which is a sovereign nation. Also, as the pontiff, the pope has the power to greatly influence how Catholics approach certain issues such as contraception, abortion, and so on. He wields a fair amount of power, which is why the position often attracts controversy as Benedict XVI learned.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Al.........As you pointed out. He is a figurehead. Basically a front man. As far as power is concerned. What problems does he solve? We have the same issues today that we had with the first pope. Conflicts, poor, hungry, homeless etc. etc. The catholic church has been losing influence by the second. Their positions on birth control and abortion are in the minority. The "influence" you mentioned is more in their egos than anywhere else.

      February 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  19. God

    Well considering the last pope was a nazi, I'm thinking maybe they're not quite ready to go outside of white

    February 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Priest

      You're not God. That is blasphemy to say you are Him.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • SheilaKA

      No more a Nazi than my mother...she was just a kid in Germany too.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Yeah

      Your mom was in the Hitler Youth and then an anti-aircraft battalion, then the Wehrmacht infantry? Cool!

      February 11, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  20. C M

    Why should someones race play any importance on being a religious leader? This article is stupid.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Tom

      Picking a Pope from Africa would be more than just a cosmetic move. Christianity is growing rapidly in Africa, and it would be a shrewd move by the College of Cardinals to pick an African Pope based on that.

      February 11, 2013 at 7:35 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.