Five Top Pope Contenders: What Their Home Countries Are Saying


With the conclave set to begin Tuesday afternoon, the lists of papabili are being narrowed down and scrutinized by the Cardinals gathered at the Vatican. Back in the home countries and dioceses of the top contenders, the secret vote to choose the successor of Benedict XVI can be viewed with a mix of pride and trepidation. Here's how five of the most talked-about names in Rome are being reported back in their native countries...


From La Motte, Quebec, the Canadian Cardinal has at least two of the qualities Benedict XVI publicly said was worth looking for in his successor -- healthy with a lively spirit. The Globe and Mail describes him as a proud traditionalist on issues such as women’s equality, birth control, divorce, women clergy and married priests.

He doesn’t rate his own chances very highly, says The Toronto Star. Still, another Quebec Bishop, Lionel Gendon, a longtime friend, said of Ouellet: “I know him well enough to know that if he becomes Pope, he’ll be counting on the grace of God to accomplish his mission. But it’s not something that he wishes for.”

The Ontario paper went to talk to his family, including his brother Roch. “My mother said it’s so big that I almost hope that he doesn’t become Pope. She knows that it will mean that she loses her son and she’ll never see him again.” he said.

A writer for French-Canadian newspaper L’Actualité is in Rome and asked random passers by on the streets surrounding the Vatican whether they knew of Ouellet, and whether he was papabile. They hadn’t heard of him, but then again, nobody had heard of Karol Wojtyla before he became John Paul II.

ITALY: Cardinal Angelo Scola


After he was moved from the diocese of Venice to Milan, it was seen as almost a sign from Pope Benedict that he had big plans for Scola, reports La Stampa. It’s the biggest diocese in Europe, and one of the most important in the world.

He is seen as one of the strongest papabili entering conclave La Stampa reports that there is a bloc of Americans, Germans and other Italians likely vote for him. An outsider to the Curia, Scola has in the past woven relationships with Eastern Churches, and has sought to build bridges with the Muslim world.

BRAZIL: Cardinal Dom Odilo Scherer

Agência Brasil

The Archbishop of São Paolo doesn’t rate his chances in conclave, labeling them in an interview with Folha de S.Pãolo as “fantasy”. On Friday, it was rumored that Scherer and Scola are the top two candidates. Since arriving in Rome, the Archbishop of São Paulo has avoided the press - the silence would be a signal that he is preserving himself, since self-promotion is often unpopular among the cardinals.

He is of German origins, with a restrained style -- that is to say “less latino” -- and is a master of the Italian language.

Odilo’s name is being repeated on more than one continent and Monsignor Antonio Luiz Catelan, accompanying the Brazilian cardinals, urged journalists to present him as a good candidate.

U.S.A.: Cardinal Timothy Dolan


Described as a “garrulous presence” by the NY Times, the head of the diocese of the Big Apple is one of the few social media friendly candidates.

Although it’s unlikely that an American would be elected as pontiff, the fact that any are even being considered shows a significant shift in the process of elected popes. The “bear-hug Bishop” spent seven years in Rome as rector of the North American College, where he had studied for his own ordination years earlier, according to the Washington Post. However, he never worked in a Vatican office or congregation — experience that would have helped him develop ties with cardinals from other countries and raise his profile in a conclave.

MEXICO: Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega


Another shot for the first-ever Latin American pope is in Mexico, a country of 93 million Catholics. Archbishop of Guadalajara, Ortega, 64, is one of a small group of the cardinals who have spoken out against the Church’s handling of the abuse scandals says La Vanguardia.

According to Univision, Ortega said that the Catholic Church needs to be “open and willing to discuss with the world, however inflexible on topical themes such as abortion and gay marriage.”

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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