If the cardinals in the conclave turn to an African, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana seems most likely to get the nod. Turkson is a media-friendly, multilingual 64-year-old who has the requisite Roman experience and connections, having served as head of Benedict’s Justice and Peace Council — sort of the Vatican’s human rights commission — since 2009.
At the time of his Vatican appointment, Turkson was asked whether he thought the time was right for a black pope, given that America had its first black president in Barack Obama. “Why not?” Turkson replied. But Turkson has also made impolitic statements about Islam, which many view as the great threat facing African Christianity, and some think the time is still not ripe for a pope from the continent.
An Italian Restoration?
The Italians view the papal throne as their birthright, and having lent it to a Pole and now a German for 35 years, many say it’s time for an Italian Restoration. The favorite among the Italians would be Cardinal Angelo Scola, 70, the Archbishop of Milan. Milan has traditionally been a stepping stone for future popes, and Scola, often associated with the conservative Communion and Liberation movement, is a favorite of Benedict’s.
Scola is an intellectual, but also open to the media. Asked in October 2003 by CNN to identify the main challenge facing the church, Scola said the principal one was the “fracture” between the church and contemporary culture.
Other Italian options are Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 69, the strong-willed head of the Italian bishops since 2007. Bagnasco is close to Benedict and has learned to navigate the treacherous waters of both church and worldly powers. Or there is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 69, an affable scholar who peppers almost every sentence with quotations from a staggering array of classical and modern writers and philosophers. He lacks international standing, however, and has never headed a large diocese.
A papal samba? Or a tango?
Latin America is home to the greatest concentration of Catholics in the world, and Brazil has the most baptized Catholics of any country. Rio de Janeiro is hosting World Youth Day, a huge Catholic jamboree that the pope traditionally presides over, this July. It could also be a homecoming of sorts if the cardinals choose Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, currently archbishop of Sao Paolo. The arguments are strong: Scherer, 62, is a German-Brazilian who has headed the largest diocese in the world’s largest Catholic country since 2007, and he studied and worked in Rome.
But Scherer could have some in-house competition from Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, who has headed the Vatican’s congregation that oversees the world’s religious orders of priests and nuns since January 2011. He has curial credentials but also showed he wanted to change the way Rome managed its relations with religious men and women worldwide, aiming at dialogue and collaboration rather than confrontation.