February 12th, 2013
11:33 AM ET

My Take: Don't bet on a diversity pope

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

The United States just finished a diversity election that saw a president elected not by old, white men but by Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Now that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his retirement, the Roman Catholic Church is preparing for an election of its own. Though in this case, the election will be decided not by rank-and-file Catholics but by the College of Cardinals.

It is well known that the demographics of the Catholic Church are changing quickly. Membership is hemorrhaging in Europe and barely stable in the United States, but it is booming in Asia and Africa and Latin America, which together account for two-thirds of the world’s Catholics.

In recent years, the papacy has seen some demographic milestones, as the College of Cardinals moved beyond Italy to tap popes from Poland (John Paul II) and Germany (Benedict XVI). There is now some speculation that an American might be considered, namely Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

But the church could take a much bolder step, tapping a pontiff that represents its future in the "Global South" rather than its past in the "Global North."

If you crunch the numbers, it’s astonishing that we have not yet had a Latin American pope.  Today roughly 41% of all Catholics hail from Latin America. And half of all Catholics under age 40 are from Latin America.

In this key region (which accounts for 16% of cardinal electors), possible papal candidates include Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Buenos Aires), who may have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave. But he is 75, and given Benedict’s abrupt retirement for (among other things) health reasons, the College of Cardinals might well want to find someone younger.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (age 69), an Italian-Argentinian spearheading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches, is more likely. He has also been the Vatican’s chief of staff.

Another Latin American possibility is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maridiaga (age 70) of Honduras, a rising star in the region who is known as a powerful speaker with a strong commitment to social justice.

Odilo Pedro Scherer (age 63) may be Latin America's strongest candidate. As the archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, he runs the largest diocese in Latin America. But like every other Latin American candidate, he will be hurt by the fact that Pentecostal and evangelical Protestant churches are booming there.

Africa accounts for more than 16% of Catholics worldwide, but this region is Catholicizing quickly.

In Ghana, Peter Appiah Turkson (age 64) is often mentioned as the African to beat. Like Benedict, he is an academic and a conservative. He is well-known for opposing the use of condoms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. A TV star in his homeland, Turkson is said to have the people’s touch that made Pope John Paul II so popular.

Another widely discussed African is Francis Arinze (age 72) of Nigeria. While leading the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, he became a point person for Catholic conversations with Islam, but he is widely seen as conservative.

One huge barrier to all of these candidacies is the huge imbalance between the worldwide Catholic population and the members of the College of Cardinals. The “Global South” (Latin America, Africa and Asia) is badly underrepresented, and the “Global North” (Europe and North America) is overrepresented. Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of all Catholics (many of them nominal at best), commands a majority (53%) of electors - half of them Italians.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would wager that the “diversity election” comes next time. Given the strong tilt in the College of Cardinals toward Europe and the United States, I think we are in for another old, white man.

So far, the betters agree with me. The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada as the front-runner - at 7:2 odds.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Africa • Americas • Asia • Catholic Church • Ghana • Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican

soundoff (252 Responses)
  1. Duane

    Yak, yak, yak! Hey, look – a South American diversity pope! More proof that an "expert" is just anyone who can run off at the mouth and get others to pay attention. CNN, ya gotta do better than this!

    March 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  2. Tom

    Hey! The first person you mention as probably not going to be the one is in fact.... the one. Don't worry, you'll have another chance to prognosticate within your lifetime...

    March 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  3. Ol' Yeller

    Just as every cop is a criminal
    And all the sinners saints
    As heads is tails
    Just call me lucifer
    Cause I'm in need of some restraint
    So if you meet me
    Have some courtesy
    Have some sympathy, and some taste
    Use all your well-learned politesse
    Or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah

    March 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  4. Ol' Yeller

    Oh... after reading more posts, I realize 'Be honest' is a judgemental, tea bagger, catholic who apparently supports the molestation of children, or will at least defend this atrocity rather than admit their Church is infested with pedophiles who apparently are protected under church doctrine.
    The old, 'everyone else is doing do it, so don't pick on us' is a very Jr. High defense. My teen daughter has came up with better. How about a little dose of reality, a dash of accountability, and perhaps a saturation of humility would be in order... oh yeah, and change your screen name... you are FAR from honest.

    March 12, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  5. Ol' Yeller

    @Be honest-
    You are a Catholic I gather from your posts which say you are... you are also very judgemental of others and overly defensive of those critical of your Church, especially in the area of their having, time and time again, covered up the molestation of children. I think you might serve yourself better if you would look a liilte more inward instead of judging those around you. Take a little of your own advice perhaps, instead of doling it out to others...

    "Seems you need to grow up; get an education and develop a sense of decency."

    March 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  6. trekie70

    The reason the RCC church has so many problems is that the Catholics around the world get no voice in electing their leader. You have a select few that get to elect the leader of millions that lack a voice. I"m not Catholic but even I can see that the RCC is trying to desperately hang on to the way things were 200 years ago. In the modern world, you either adapt or die.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Be honest

      I'm a practising Catholic and I. and everyone I know, am quite happy with the trafition of choosing a Pope. Since you're obviously not a Catholic, your opinion is noted but hardly relevant.

      March 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  7. rational minded

    Wanted ad for papacy:

    Vacancy in Vatican: We are looking for an old, pasty white man with experience in molesting children or covering up pedophilia. Candidate must be willing to wear 50lb robes, ride ridiculous looking vehicles and mutter gibberish at set times. Former Nazi experience a plus.
    Apply to the Vatican.

    February 17, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • anthonyhantonh

      Just when I thought I couldn't find a more offensive anti-catholic bigot I come across your post. Its ractist as well as bigotted. Id tell you to examine your conscience but you don't have one do you?

      February 18, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Be honest

      rational minded – I'm a teacher and I'm going to grade your post:

      Choice of name – Fail
      Ability to think logically – Fail
      Open-mindedness – Fail
      Ethics – Fail
      Morals – Fail
      Reasoning ability – Fail

      Racist content – Pass
      Bigotry – Pass
      Hate – Pass
      lack of basic intelligence – Pass

      Seems you need to grow up; get an education and develop a sense of decency.

      February 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Catholic by choice

      Bet you think your are real clever with that remark don't you? It's about on the same level as something scrawled in the stall of a public bathroom.

      February 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Sara Howells


    February 15, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  9. voodoo

    ..anyone interested in seeing a site which exposes the crimes of this pope and church against children look at http://www.bishopaccountability. org

    This site was put together by victims and their families. Many victims are mentally ill today, while some committed suicide.

    February 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • JJ

      I know. It's very disturbing and can't wrap my head around how anyone can support this pedophile infested cult. Only a religion/cult can make otherwise decent people reconcile the rape of children even to the point of supporting child rapists and their protectors/masters. I find the followers of this cult most repugnant.

      February 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Be honest

      ALL child abuse should be stopped, period. It's hateful and disgusting. So........................................................

      Ministers of ALL faiths
      Scout leaders
      Medical personal
      Sports Coaches
      And the worst offenders of all Family members...............are evil "cults"as well aren't they??????? Grow up and quit the bigotry!

      February 15, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • The Bottom Line

      The difference, as you well know, is that most of those are not actively conspiring to protect the perpetrators from prosecution. They aren't running massive conspiracies to hide the criminals and ostracize the victims.

      That is where Catholicism has failed. Had they been responsible and turned these guys over to the law, then nobody would have a problem with them. But their secrecy and illegal choices kept molestors molesting on a broad scale.

      So quit with the lame attempts to divert attention.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • anthonyhantonh

      Anyone interested in what an anti-catholic bigot has to say? Wow voodoo not even subtle in you bias and bigotry.

      February 18, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  10. Kevin Gray

    Considering White people are only 9% of Earth's population, I think a White pope makes a perfect "diversity" pope.

    The concept of "diversity" is a joke to begin with anyway

    February 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  11. AllUH

    I was hoping for a Pope on a rope, they could just as easily worship this fake idol and still be free to molest young boys, the true purpose of the Catholic Church.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • anthonyhantonh

      The true purpose of the Catholic faith is to molest children? What bigotted rubbish. Are you anti religion or just anti Catholic?

      February 15, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Be honest

      ALLUH – Yaaaaaawn! DO stop being a diva...........it's soooooo boring.

      March 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  12. fiftyfive55

    Really funny article,I suppose if a minority becomes pope,we'll have a racial quota to meet to get into heaven.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  13. Sandy

    This writer treats the topic of papal election like an American presidential election. If he is college educated and well-informed, as his credentials supposedly suggest, he would not be using terms such as "he's a known conservative." There is orthodox (The Faith, as it is defined in the catechism) and then anything else, but American political labels like left, right, conservative and liberal are inappropriate.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Be honest

      Sandy, Prothero is a card carrying anti-Catholic. He masquerades as a "thinker" lol – but all he is really is a wannabee theologian. I have news for him....he's predictable, boring and very, very uneducated.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Yeah right

      How would you come to the conclusion that a professor at Boston University is "very very uneducated"? Let's hear your academic credentials (without lying, if that is possible for you).

      Both of you dislike him because he doesn't tell you what you want to hear, but that says more about you than him.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • sqeptiq

      "very uneducated" is teaspeak for "disagrees with me."

      February 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Be honest

      Prothero is anti-Catholic. He IS uneducated. Why would an educated man compare the long held traditions of the election of the Head of the Catholic Church with the circus of the American election? The outcome of Obama's re-election was fought and won by the television news outlets.........the American people [whatever race or gender] were led by the nose to vote for a man who was openly dishonest; lacking in leadership and whined his way through the process.

      I rest my case

      March 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  14. John

    I went through 12 years of Catholic School and have a cousin who is a Bishop and I could not care less about race or color when it comes to the new Pope. We do however need a more progressive Pope. The world is changing as the church goes backward.

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

      Time may change the word of God does not. The object is not to make it easy for people of faith it is to teach the word of God. Because man says Gay marriage if alright we do not change scripture to make it alright. God gave man free will to think for themselves so people will believe or not but you don't change scripture to accommodate others.

      February 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • anthonyhantonh

      I really was not aware that the Catholic Church was a democracy where our opinions can change religious doctrine. Im may be a bit silly here but I thought that was for theologians and doctors of the faith.

      February 15, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • tallulah13

      If the church doesn't change it will die. It may not happen in this lifetime, but humanity moves on and those instiitutions that don't move as well fade into obscurity and eventually cease to exist.

      Frankly, I don't see the death of an outdated instiitution which gives autocratic power to one man who claims to speak for "god" as a bad thing.

      February 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Time may change the word of God does not."

      Are you kidding? The "word of god" has been fvcked with more times than a street walker when the fleet is in

      February 18, 2013 at 7:32 am |
  15. JJ

    I guess the pope is worn out from years of protecting and shuffling around child rapists while at the same time protecting the Vatican's piles of gold and other assets. Time to hand the baton over to the next pedophile.

    February 14, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • John

      Yes and all police are criminals, all people in the military abuse people and all politicians are crooks. Pretty simplistic world you live in

      February 14, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • sam stone

      and all men are sinners deserving god's wrath......

      simple answers abound on either side

      February 18, 2013 at 7:39 am |
    • Catholic by choice

      Think your view of all things Catholic could be any more narrow, JJ?

      February 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  16. Roy

    Not all white men are "old."

    February 14, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  17. John

    The pope represents all Catholics not just those of color, for this writer to try and make an issue of this is shameful. As a catholic the color or race of the Pope is not even something I would care about. His role as leader of the Catholic faith and his deeds is what matters.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  18. anthonyhantonh

    Skin color is only a qualification in American politics. We have an affirmative action president, but that doesn't mean there should be an affirmative action Pope.

    February 14, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • rational minded

      Don't worry, the new pope will most likely be a pedo-enabling, lily-white medievalist dotard that conservatives like yourself can cheer for. Just being politically incorrect here.

      February 17, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • Be honest

      rational minded – the new Pope will be, as were the last 260 odd, the leader of the Catholic Church and will occupy the throne of the first Pope - St Peter.
      Since Americans account for only 8%of the worlds' Catholics and the anti-Catholics on here account for nothing much except bigotry and dissent I suggest you let us get on with living our Faith in spite of a few rotten apples.Thank you

      March 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  19. Bob

    This kind of concern for diversity is only relevant for people who see others primarily in terms of their ethnicity and not their humanity. If you can articulate a real rationale for this kind of diversity then fine. But I haven't heard it... it all seems just like "Diversity fo the sake of diversity". That kind of approach is a tool for those whose real purpose is to gain political power.

    February 14, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • bannister

      STFU – EVERYONE sees race as important, you too.

      February 14, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  20. Tolerant Catholic

    I scrolled down to the comments section hoping for a reasoned discussion of the article, but was vastly disappointed. It would be nice if these boards could stay on-topic.

    February 14, 2013 at 9:24 am |
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