When he appointed a group of five cardinals from the developing world in November, Pope Benedict XVI called his church one of “all peoples.”
“She speaks in the various cultures of the different continents,” he told an ecclesiastical council in Rome.
Yet while the Catholic Church has been gaining followers in faster-growing markets for years, it’s been less quick to practice what it preaches when it comes to senior management. The leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, who will step down after eight years on Feb. 28, helped create an electorate for his successor dominated by Europeans and North Americans.
The secret conclave that will meet to vote for the next pope will be made up of 117 voting cardinals, with 61 from Europe and 14 from the U.S. and Canada, according to figures from the Vatican. Of the 67 members appointed by Benedict, 21 come from outside those regions.
“The balance is terribly skewed, half are Europeans and that is much the least significant part of the church and one of the weakest,” said Monsignor Robert Wister, a priest and professor of church history at Seton Hall University. “Naming that last group of five cardinals who were from developing countries was making up for what was a blunder.”
Italy has 49 million Catholics, according to data from the Pew Research Center. It has 28 electors in the conclave, based on listings on the Vatican website. The 76 million Catholics in the Philippines will be represented by just one cardinal elector, the Vatican website shows.
In an address to pastors and clergy from the diocese of Rome yesterday, Benedict made clear his faith in their ability to speak to the world beyond Europe.
The clergy of Rome “is a truly catholic clergy, that is to say, a universal clergy,” he said. “This is the same essence of the Church in Rome: to bring universality, catholicity, to all peoples, all races, and all cultures.”
The number of Catholics grew in Africa and southeast Asia between 2009 and 2010. Africans made up 15.6 percent of the church from 15.2 percent, while in southeast Asia the flock rose to 10.9 percent from 10.5 percent, according to data published by the Vatican in March last year. Numbers fell in Europe and South America over the same period. Of 5,104 bishops around the world, 1,606, or 31 percent, were in Europe.
The cardinals appointed in November came from India, Nigeria, Colombia, Philippines and Lebanon.
The new Pope is unlikely to be a radical reformer because Benedict followed the example of his predecessor John Paul II by enforcing strict adherence to Catholic doctrine by all priests.
As a result, the candidates, known as papabile, and the voting cardinals are all professed followers of the traditionalist wing of the church. They have to toe the line on such things as the ordination of women, abortion and contraception, said Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at London’s Roehampton University.
“The requirements of priests, let alone bishops, to be in good standing with the church are now so rigorous that by the time someone is filtered up to the level of the papabile I don’t know what’s left to give liberals much hope,” said Beattie. “Having said that, people play political games in those positions and it’s very hard to anticipate what a person might do when he becomes pope.”
In 1958, John XXIII was chosen as a caretaker and no one expected him to shake up the church in the way he did in his five years as pope, Beattie said. He called the second Vatican council, which gathered 2,600 bishops and attracted more than 3,000 participants from around the world with the aim of opening up the church to make it more accessible to the faithful.
One of the key reforms was to have Mass celebrated in the local vernacular. He died before it was completed.
The rules for voting in the next pope, carried out in a series of secret ballots in the Vatican’s Sistine chapel, may make the election of a compromise candidate more likely. They were changed by Benedict to require a two-thirds majority after John Paul II switched them to allow a straight majority if a two-thirds vote could not be achieved.
Already changes to the odds offered at bookmakers in Europe suggest movement toward a pope closer to home.
Angelo Scola, 71, the Italian Archbishop of Milan, is 11/4 favorite to be the next Pope at Paddy Power Plc. The Dublin- based company, along with William Hill Plc in the U.K., had Ghanaian Peter Turkson, 64, as its frontrunner the day Benedict unexpectedly announced his resignation on Feb. 11.
Turkson, who is based in Rome as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is now second-favorite at Paddy Power at 7/2, though remains top of the betting at William Hill. Canadian Marc Ouellet, 68, and Tarcisio Bertone, 78, also from Italy, are in third and fourth place.
Some candidates from the developing world are at a disadvantage because they are based in their dioceses and are not regulars in the Rome salons where cardinals living in the Italian capital meet, Wister said.
In the conclave, while the ideal is that the assembled cardinals listen for the guidance of God, the lobbying beforehand will make a difference to the result, he said.
“They’ll be having little dinner parties of eight or 10 cardinals feeling each other out,” Wister said. “The Holy Spirit is present and speaking, but some may not listen.”
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