BOOKMAKERS have listed two senior African cardinals among the favourites to lead the Catholic Church, raising the prospect of the first black pope in modern times.
Peter Turkson, 64, from Ghana, and Francis Arinze, 80, from Nigeria, are among the candidates to succeed Benedict XVI next month. Both lead huge congregations on a continent with soaring membership of the Church.
Cardinal Turkson, head of the Vatican’s justice and peace department, is often tipped as Africa’s front-runner. 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.
Cardinal Arinze was a close adviser to John Paul II. He is thought to have been considered “papabile” in the 2005 conclave, but may be ruled out on the grounds of his age.
Marc Ouellet, 68, a French Canadian, and effectively the Vatican’s top staff director, is also among those tipped.
But Vatican observers believe the College of Cardinals – of which half are from Europe – will tilt to the Old Continent or to South America, which is home to 42 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
If it is Europe, Vatican watchers say Angelo Scola of Milan is in pole position.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, from Vienna, a former student and close ally of Benedict, is also considered a strong candidate.
When the college meets to elect a new pope, likely to be before Easter, it will look for a range of exceptional qualities.
The next pope will have to deal with dwindling faith in the West, while Church membership soars in the Third World, and an increasing number of European countries are preparing to legalise gay marriage, which the Church opposes.
Cardinals will look for a man with a strong command of languages to help communicate the faith’s messages to the world. Benedict, in addition to his native German, speaks French and Italian fluently, has a good command of Latin and speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese with proficiency. He can also read Ancient Greek and biblical Hebrew. John Paul II was reported to speak 12 languages.