Pre-conclave meetings continued at the Vatican Tuesday as the Sistine Chapel closed to visitors in preparation for the papal elections. While the Catholic cardinals, as required by their oath of secrecy, aren’t going to tell the press too much about who they’re supporting for pope, there seems to be a pretty solid shortlist of candidates circulating around the Catholic and mainstream press. Barring any surprises—which, as the National Catholic Reporter notes, don’t happen quite as often as conventional wisdom dictates—the successor to Benedict XVI will most likely be one of these men (in no particular order):
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, Canada. He’s the head of the Congregation of Bishops and the president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, giving him two key networking edges. Because he’s Canadian, he’d provide a bit of a superficial shakeup for the Vatican, which overwhelmingly selects European (specifically, Italian) popes—if the cardinals are concerned about their media portrayal, they might find a new image appealing. But his conservative politics aren’t that different from Benedict, making him more of a “status quo” choice, as the Associated Press explains in their profile of him. According to a recent interview with the CBC, Ouellet, while not supportive of the church’s overall handling of the sex-abuse scandal, hasn’t indicated that he’d implement further reform in the wake of new sex scandals in the Catholic church. Rather, he said, “I think the protocols that have been set up are effective if they are followed.”
Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64, Ghana. He’s been a bookmaker’s favorite since the papal succession speculation began. He’d be the first black pope, and the first African pope since the year 496. The Catholic church has been grappling with its demographic shift toward developing regions, including Africa, where the Catholic population is rapidly growing (16 percent of Catholics are from Sub-Saharan Africa). But they’re underrepresented in Catholic leadership, where just 11 of the 115 cardinal electors are from the continent. Turkson, like Ouellet, would be a demographically different choice for the church, but not really a theological one (he’s also pretty conservative). Plus, he has a highly problematic stance on homosexuality, and in turn, on the sex-abuse scandal. In February, Turkson told CNN that Africa was protected from the sex abuse in the church because “in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.”
Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, Italy. Cardinals love picking Italians. The National Catholic Reporter describes Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, as “Ratzinger but with a better popular touch.” He’s also involved in Muslim-Christian relations, in which he’s considered well-versed by his colleagues. That’s probably why he’s topping a handful of papal contender lists—as basically theologically identical to Benedict XVI but with more charisma and a better global reach, Scola would make sense given the Vatican’s reluctance to change.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, Argentina. He’s young enough. He’s from Latin America but has Italian parents and Vatican experience. He’s an effective administrator. Sandri is another candidate that would address the church’s gap between leadership and population distribution: While Latin America is home to nearly 40 percent of Catholics worldwide, according to Pew, only 16 of the 115 cardinal electors are from South and Central America. Sandri was the Vatican’s chief of staff, essentially, from 2000-’07. But he doesn’t have pastoral experience, something cardinals are reportedly looking for this time around. And as the National Catholic Reporter explains in their profile of Sandri, his long bureaucratic history comes with some baggage.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 69, Italy. He’s another conservative, Italian choice. The Archbishop of Genoa and head of the Italian bishops conference is apparently the “nemeisis” of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, according to the Washington Post. Bertone is currently running the popeless Vatican as “chamberlin” (we’ll get to him in a minute). Last year, Bagnasco called then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi “sad and hollow.”
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, Italy. Ravasi is charismatic, smart, and quotes Kafka and Amy Winehouse (though with a super uncool #youthcult hashtag) on Twitter. He’s Italian, which the Vatican likes. He’s been the culture minister at the Vatican since 2007. But he’s not experienced pastorally, and his theology is apparently more moderate than the pope emeritus, NBC explains.
Odilo Scherer, 63, Brazil. He’s the Archbishop of Sao Paolo, which gives him pastoral experience, but he’s also worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic country, and he’s considered by many to be the top Latin American choice among the cardinals. Unlike Benedict, Sherer has supported the social justice and poverty-focused message of liberation theology—popular in Latin America but considered too liberal by other wings of the church—but slammed what he says is its use of “Marxism as a tool of analysis.” Sherer is globally moderate but regionally conservative.
The Slightly Longer Shortlist: There are quite a few names being thrown around. Other contenders include Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, Brazil; John Onaiyekan, 69, Nigeria; Luis Tagle, 55, Philippines; Christoph Schoenborn, 67, Austria; Sean O’Malley, 68, U.S.; and Peter Erdo, 65, Hungary.
Bonus round: commonly named contenders who probably won’t be pope:
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, Italy. One word: Vatileaks. Bertone was the secretary of state for the Vatican under Benedict XVI, and is now running the Vatican during the sede vacante. Bertone, like Turkson, believes that homosexuality is to blame for the child abuse scandal plaguing the church.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 63, U.S. Dolan is probably not the next pope, and his name makes it onto lists like these because of his country of origin and high profile. But like Ravasi, he’s at least competent at communicating with a broader audience, something the cardinals might feel they desperately need. Dolan is a conservative, theologically. He was deposed in late February concerning sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where he was the leader before becoming the Archbishop of New York. Five-hundred-seventy-five people have filed abuse claims against Catholic clergymen in the diocese, according to the New York Times.