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Cardinals From Canada, Africa Lead in Papal Betting

Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson
Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson is the favorite to become pope after Benedict XVI resigns at the end of the month, according to Paddy Power Plc. Photographer: Gregorio Borgia/AP

Cardinals from Canada, Nigeria and Ghana are among the leading candidates to succeed Benedict XVI as pope, according to bookmakers’ odds.

Nigeria’s Francis Arinze, 80, is the 2-1 favorite at London-based William Hill Plc, meaning a 1-euro ($1.34) winning wager would return a 2-euro profit. Peter Turkson, 64, of Ghana is second favorite at 5-2. At Paddy Power Plc, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, is the 5-2 frontrunner, while Turkson is 3-1 and Arinze is 7-2.

Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, announced today that he will resign on Feb. 28, two months before his 86th birthday, for health reasons, after serving for almost eight years. This is the first such abdication of a leader of the Roman Catholic Church in almost 600 years.

The surprise resignation may reopen rifts within the church as pressure builds to name a pope from the developing world where Catholicism is growing, offsetting declines in Europe and the U.S. Arinze, Turkson and Ouellet are also the favorites at Ladbrokes Plc, according to the bookmaker’s website.

“When Joseph Ratzinger took over as pope, Francis Arinze ran him close in the betting,” Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for William Hill, said in an e-mailed statement. “We think he may be well placed to succeed him now, although age could be against him.”

African Pope

Paddy Power is also offering odds of 6-4 that the next pontiff will be Italian, with an African at 2-1 and a Central or South American at 10-3. The German-born Pope Benedict become the 265th leader of the Catholic Church after succeeding John Paul II of Poland. John Paul was the first non-Italian pope since Adrian VI in the 16th century.

The Italian candidate on the shortest odds at Paddy Power is Gianfranco Ravasi, at 7-1. William Hill has Angelo Scola, another Italian and the archbishop of Milan, at 5-1.

A traditionalist, Benedict became pope after spending a quarter century as the enforcer of doctrine in an office formerly known as the Inquisition.

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the pontiff said today.

The new pope will be chosen through a conclave, a special gathering of cardinals who are sequestered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they agree on a successor. Pope Benedict will have no role in choosing his successor, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a news conference in Rome. He will initially retire to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo before transferring to live in a convent.

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