Archbishop of Sao Paulo Dom Odilo Pedro Scherer may be
Latin America's strongest candidate for the papacy.
REUTERS/Arquidiocese de Sao Paulo
With Pope Benedict's stunning announcement that he will
resign later this month, the time may be coming for the Roman
Catholic Church to elect its first non-European leader and it
could be a Latin American.
The region already represents 42 percent of the world's 1.2
billion-strong Catholic population, the largest single block
in the Church, compared to 25 percent in its European
After the Pole John Paul and German-born Benedict, the post
once reserved for Italians is now open to all. The new pope
will be the man that the cardinals who elect him at the next
conclave think will guide the Church best.
Two senior Vatican officials recently dropped surprisingly
clear hints about possible successors. The upshot of their
remarks is that the next pope could well be from Latin
"I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who
could take responsibility for the universal Church," said
Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who now holds the pope's old post
as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"The universal Church teaches that Christianity isn't centred
on Europe," the German-born archbishop told Duesseldorf's
Rheinische Post newspaper just before Christmas.
Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for
Christian unity, told the Tagesanzeiger daily in Zurich at
the same time that the Church's future was not in Europe.
"It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or
South America at the next conclave," he said, referring to
the closed-door election in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.
Asked if he would vote for a non-European over a European
candidate if they were equally qualified, he responded:
CHANGES IN STYLE, NOT DOCTRINE
Those two interviews took place at a time when there was no
speculation about Benedict leaving and Church leaders may be
less frank now that a conclave is looming.
The fact that Benedict cited health reasons for resigning
could favour younger candidates, no matter where they are
The attraction of a non-European candidate would be in the
change of style he could provide and the focus he could
direct on issues closer to Catholics in developing countries.
Since all cardinals who will vote in the conclave were named
by the conservative John Paul or Benedict, few would be
expected to make major changes on issues such as artificial
birth control, homosexuality or a wider role for women in the
If it now really is Latin America's turn, the leading
candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the
huge diocese of Sao Paulo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo
Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern
Scherer, a Brazilian of German origin, ranks as a moderate
because he both denounced the political activism of Latin
America's "liberation theology" but retained its broader
social concern about poverty and injustice.
A moral conservative, he has campaigned against abortion even
in cases of rape or when the woman's life is at risk. He has
also blamed the government's safe-sex condom distribution
programme for sexual promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies.
He is just as firm against homosexuality. "Sexuality is not
an 'option' but a fact of nature and a gift of God," he wrote
in 2011. "The increasing ambiguity and confusion in relation
to sexual identity, which is taking over our culture, is a
cause for concern."
Sandri, a career diplomat, doesn't have a long paper trail on
hot button issues that were not part of his brief, but he
could hardly have reached such a senior position at the
Vatican without being in line with Church orthodoxy.
Perhaps his best known public statement was the announcement
of Pope John Paul's death in 2005 when he held the Vatican's
third highest post as chief of staff in the Secretariat of
Peter Turkson from Ghana, now head of the Vatican's justice
and peace department, is often tipped as Africa's
On use of condoms, a key issue there because of the AIDS
epidemic, he has hinted at some leeway without openly
opposing the Church's basic opposition to them.
He has said fidelity and abstinence are safer options than
condoms and money spent on providing condoms would be better
used to supply retro-viral drugs to those already infected.
In 2011, Turkson issued a paper condemning what he called the
"idolatry of the market" and called for a global central bank
to keep developed countries from exploiting poorer ones.
"The people on Wall Street need to sit down and go through a
process of discernment and see whether their role managing
the finances of the world is actually serving the interests
of humanity and the common good," he told journalists.
While he supports the all-male clergy, Turkson was the first
Vatican official to appoint a lay woman to a senior position.
Italian Flaminia Giovanelli is undersecretary, the number
three position, in his department.
THE CATHOLIC HEARTLAND
Europe, which has half the cardinals in the conclave even
though only a quarter of the world's Catholics live there,
still has strong candidates if the voting tilts to the Old
Its leading candidate is Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, a
traditional springboard to the papacy. Vatican watchers saw
Benedict's decision to transfer him there from Venice in 2011
as a tip he might be the pontiff's preferred successor.
Scola has been an outspoken opponent of civil unions in
Italy. His 2003 book The Nuptial Mystery gave a long
theological argument favouring traditional marriage and
denouncing abortion, artificial birth control, feminism and
As head of the Oasis Foundation promoting exchanges between
Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, he is one of the
few candidates with frequent contacts with Islam, the second
largest faith in the world after Christianity.
The man who might provide the most change could be Vienna
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a former student and ally of
Benedict whose doctrinal orthodoxy is not in question but who
has shown unusual flexibility dealing with pastoral
He opposed a "call to disobedience" by reformist priests but
chose to dialogue with them rather than simply discipline
When conservatives urged him to unseat an openly gay man
elected to a parish council, he invited him to lunch and
afterward said he was a sincere man who should keep the post.
This more nuanced approach could appeal to cardinals who
don't want another isolated pope but cost him votes among the
most conservative cardinals.
FRONTRUNNERS FOR NOW
While there are no official candidates, here are the
"papabili" (potential popes) most frequently mentioned
recently. The list is alphabetical, not in order of their
chances, and will probably change between now and when the
conclave is held, most likely in March.
- Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the
Vatican department for religious congregations when he took
over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in
Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of
its advocates. Possible drawbacks include his low profile.
- Timothy Dolan, (USA, 62) became the voice of U.S.
Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009.
His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where
both are often missing. But cardinals are wary of a
"superpower pope" and his back-slapping style may be too
American for some.
- Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican's top
staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He
once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare." Though well
connected within the Curia, the widespread secularism of his
native Quebec could work against him.
- Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture
minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds
of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile
could hurt him if cardinals decide they need an experienced
pastor rather than another professor as pope.
- Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a "transatlantic" figure
born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the
third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in
2000-2007. But he has no pastoral experience and his job
overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome.
- Odilo Pedro Scherer (Brazil, 63) ranks as Latin America's
strongest candidate. Archbishop of Sao Paulo, largest diocese
in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his
country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere. The rapid
growth of Protestant churches in Brazil could count against
- Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 67) is a former student of
Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The
Vienna archbishop has ranked as papal material since editing
the Church catechism in the 1990s. But some cautious reform
stands and strong dissent by some Austrian priests could hurt
- Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a
springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win.
An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a
foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His
dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic
- Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared
to that of the late Pope John Paul. He is also close to Pope
Benedict after working with him at the International
Theological Commission. While he has many fans, he only
became a cardinal in 2012 and conclaves are wary of young
- Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate.
Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman
for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial
reform. He showed a video criticising Muslims at a recent
Vatican synod, raising doubts about how he sees Islam.