With Benedict resigning, can Latin American claim papacy?

February 11, 2013

(Separate file photos of Roman Catholic clergy from Latin America cited as being possible candidates to be the next Pope, (L-R) Brazilian cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Sao Paulo Archbishop Odilo Scherer, and Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, taken in Rome between 2007 and 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

With Pope Benedict’s stunning announcement that he will resign later this month, the time may be coming for the Roman Catholic Church to elect its first non-European leader and it could be a Latin American.

The region already represents 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion-strong Catholic population, the largest single block in the Church, compared to 25 percent in its European heartland.

After the Pole John Paul and German-born Benedict, the post once reserved for Italians is now open to all. The new pope will be the man that the cardinals who elect him at the next conclave think will guide the Church best.

Two senior Vatican officials recently dropped surprisingly clear hints about possible successors. The upshot of their remarks is that the next pope could well be from Latin America.

“I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the universal Church,” said Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who now holds the pope’s old post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“The universal Church teaches that Christianity isn’t centered on Europe,” the German-born archbishop told Duesseldorf’s Rheinische Post newspaper just before Christmas.

Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for Christian unity, told the Tagesanzeiger daily in Zurich at the same time that the Church’s future was not in Europe.

“It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave,” he said, referring to the closed-door election in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.

Asked if he would vote for a non-European over a European candidate if they were equally qualified, he responded: “Yes.”

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