Most say the cardinals must shake up the Church. That gives better chances to electing a cardinal from South America... or North America.
VATICAN CITY - No, the conclave will not be long. Many cardinals have said so in private. Such confidence in the timing makes us think that they are quickly advancing towards an agreement regarding the profile, and even the name, of the next pope. Up until now, most were predicting a wide-open assembly of 115 voting cardinals, with no clear favorite, which would tend to lead to a protracted conclave. But now a different hypothesis seems to dominate.
“The Church needs to be shaken up because it is going through a real crisis,” one well-connected priest told Clarín. Though this source sides with the more progressive wing of the hierarchy, he agrees with others that whoever is chosen will again be a clear doctrinal traditionalist.
What is different this time is that many believe that for the first time the pope will be chosen "from the other side of the world,” as one source put it. That is: not from Europe, but from the American continent.
Two of the favorites from the Western hemisphere are Brazil's Odilo Scherer, 63, and Canada's Marc Ouellet, 68. Both fit the profile -- that many cardinals are eyeing -- of younger and conservative in doctrine, but open about social issues.
On a mission
But bishops have also noted the importance of a strong missionary and evangelizing spirit, which both men have had to show back home. In Scherer's Brazil, a country of 200 million inhabitants, 123 million of which are baptized, the percentage of Catholics is falling in the face of growing evangelical Protestant movements.
Ouellet, who heads the Congregation of Bishops, is a French-Canadian from Quebec, the most liberal province in Canada; he also served 11 years in Colombia, as a member of the order of San Sulpicio, and as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. That could win him support from Latin America's 19 voting cardinals, particularly from colleagues he knows well in Mexico, Colombia and Central America. He also could garner support from some of the 14 North American cardinals.
Apart from the two Americans candidates, there are some other favorites such as the archbishop from Milan, 71-year-old Cardinal Angelo Scola, another conservative disciple of Benedict XVI from the days he was known as Joseph Ratzinger. The Italian block of 28 voting cardinals heading into the conclave continues to be by far the largest of any single nation. Among the Italians there is much talk around Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican"s culture office, but lacks pastoral experience in the diocese.
Other Europeans considered potential dark horses include Vienna's Christoph Schönborn and Budapest's Peter Erdo. But more and more, with the last two popes being non-Italian Europeans, it looks like the successor of Peter may indeed finally come... from the other side of the world.