Who’s Still in the Running To Be The Vatican’s Next (Top) Pope?

When Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday morning that he was resigning from being head of the Catholic Church, he set off a firestorm of confusion and speculation.

First of all...he can quit!?!?!?!? (Apparently, yes.)

Second of all…he announced it in Latin?!?!? (Also, apparently, yes.)

Third of all…WHO IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT POPE?!?!?!?!?

After Benedict steps down officially on February 28, the College of Cardinals will meet in secret in the Sistine Chapel and in between days upon days of discussion and craning their necks to see Michelangelo’s amazing masterpiece on the ceiling, they will decide whom will be pope.

So who could it be?

Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, would be the most traditional choice.

See, the pope is usually an Italian, like Scola is. I think it has something to do with the Vatican being in Rome or the papacy pretty much being a popularity contest determined by a clique of Cardinals and how most of the Cardinals are Italian. I mean…no! That’s not true! The pope is determined by divine inspiration. Yeah. That’s why it’s done in secret over a length of time and the people who elect the pope are all embroiled in Church politics together. Yeah. It’s completely God who chooses the pope.

Anyway, Scola is in charge of the most important archdiocese in Milan and is tight with Benedict, so he’s probably the frontrunner right now.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi is another Italian frontrunner. Ravasi’s head of the Vatican’s culture office and is an avid intellectual. Like Paul Rudd‘s character in Clueless, Ravasi likes to read Nietzsche. He is also the creator of “The Courtyard of the Gentiles” project, which is striving to expand the Church’s dialogue with people about art and science and philosophy. He’s even cool with talking to Atheists about stuff.

Ravasi would clearly be a more controversial choice, but perhaps a more modern one for the 21st Century. Not to mention the fact that Benedict put him in charge of this year’s Lent services, which may signal that the intellectual Ravasi is perhaps gaining on Scola.

Then there’s Pope Benedict’s protege, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. Though he’s Austrian and not Italian, he’s been a long-time favorite to be a future pope because he’s apparently really likable and speaks a lot of languages, qualities that should endear him to the masses.

That said, Schoenborn has recently set off a firestorm in his own community by acknowledging a gay priest. Traditionalists disagree with Schoenborn’s choice to let the man continue officiating masses, but if Schoenborn happens to become elected pope, it could signal the start of more progressive attitudes towards homosexuals in the Church.

While the pope has almost always been a European (there is some dispute here as some scholars maintain there has never been a non-European pope, whereas others argue there have been North African popes), some Church experts believe that a Latin American or African candidate may take the prize.

Popular South American picks include Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri from Argentina. Scherer oversees the diocese of Sao Paolo and Sandri has already been on the world stage when he became Pope John Paul II’s “voice” in ceremonies after the former pope lost the ability to speak in the later stages of Parkinson’s Disease. So, they have fame and popularity on their side.

A Latin American pope could happen because the Church’s popularity is waning in Europe and some people believe that because the Church is growing in Latin America, a Latin American pope would make sense. For those same reasons, some people are calling for an African pope.

One of the highest ranking African cardinals in the world is Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson. Right now, Turkson is heading the Vatican’s office for justice and peace. If elected, he would be the first Black African pope which would be exciting. There is worry though because he’s prone to gaffes. Undoubtedly, he is a wildcard, but a popular one.

Other wildcards include the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Antonio Tagle. He’s incredibly popular, but at 56, he’s still a young’un in the world of Catholicism. Not to mention, there’s also the outside chance that a North American Cardinal could snatch the pope hat.

There’s only one thing for certain, and that’s that the new pope will be a man. Which some would say is tradition, but then again, there was Pope Joan.

For more info please visit The Associated Press.

Featured image via NPR.

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