Top contenders to be the next pope

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 10 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

CARDINAL PETER TURKSON: Often cast as the social conscience of the church, Ghana's Turkson is viewed by many as the top African contender for pope. The 64-year-old head of the Vatican's peace and justice office was widely credited with helping to avert violence following contested Ghanaian elections. He has aggressively fought African poverty, while disappointing many by hewing to the church's conservative line on condom use amid Africa's AIDS epidemic. Turkson's reputation as a man of peace took a hit recently when he showed a virulently anti-Islamic video, a move now seen as hurting his papal prospects. Observers say those prospects sank further when he broke a taboo against public jockeying for the papacy — says the day after Benedict's resignation announcement that he's up for the job "if it's the will of God."

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Dolan, the 63-year-old archbishop of New York, is an upbeat, affable defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and a well-known religious figure in the United States. He holds a job Pope John Paul II once called "archbishop of the capital of the world." His colleagues broke with protocol in 2010 and made him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, instead of elevating the sitting vice president as expected. And during the 2012 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats competed over which national political convention the cardinal would bless. He did both. But scholars question whether his charisma and experience are enough for a real shot at succeeding Benedict.

CARDINAL JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: Bergoglio, 76, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. The archbishop of Buenos Aires reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world's Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly. Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

CARDINAL LEONARDO SANDRI: Leonardo Sandri, 69, is a Vatican insider who has run the day-to-day operations of the global church's vast bureaucracy and roamed the world as a papal diplomat. He left his native Argentina for Rome at 27 and never returned to live in his homeland. Initially trained as a canon lawyer, he reached the No. 3 spot in the church's hierarchy under Pope John Paul II, the zenith of a long career in the Vatican's diplomatic service ranging from Africa to Mexico to Washington. As substitute secretary of state for seven years, he essentially served as the pope's chief of staff. The jovial diplomat has been knighted in a dozen countries, and the church he is attached to as cardinal is Rome's exquisite, baroque San Carlo ai Catinari.

CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE: Asia's most prominent Roman Catholic leader knows how to reach the masses: He sings on stage, preaches on TV, brings churchgoers to laughter and tears with his homilies. And he's on Facebook. But the 55-year-old Filipino's best response against the tide of secularism, clergy sex abuse scandals and rival-faith competition could be his reputation for humility. His compassion for the poor and unassuming ways have impressed followers in his homeland, Asia's largest Catholic nation, and church leaders in the Vatican. Tagle's chances are considered remote, as many believe that Latin America or Africa — with their faster growing Catholic flocks — would be more logical choices if the papal electors look beyond Europe.

CARDINAL CHRISTOPH SCHOENBORN: Schoenborn is a soft-spoken conservative who is ready to listen to those espousing reform. That profile that could appeal to fellow cardinals looking to elect a pontiff with widest-possible appeal to the world's 1 billion Catholics. His Austrian nationality may be his biggest disadvantage: Electors may be reluctant to choose another German speaker as a successor to Benedict. A man of low tolerance for the child abuse scandals roiling the church, Schoenborn, 68, himself was elevated to the its upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy after his predecessor resigned 18 years ago over accusations that he was a pedophile.

CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH: Benedict XVI picked the Sri Lankan Ranjith to return from Colombo to the Vatican to oversee the church's liturgy and rites in one of his first appointments as pope. The choice of Ranjith in 2005 rewarded a strong voice of tradition — so rigid that some critics regard it even as backward-looking. Ranjith in 2010 was named Sri Lanka's second cardinal in history. There are many strikes against a Ranjith candidacy — Sri Lanka, for example, has just 1.3 million Catholics, less than half the population of Rome. But the rising influence of the developing world, along with the 65-year-old's strong conservative credentials, helps keeps his name in the mix of papal contenders.

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