A view from Italy: Who will be the next pope?

It's considered a vulgar topic here in Italy, but talk is turning to who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI

by Tim Hedges on 19 February 2013 11:56

That we are to have a new Pontiff only became clear last week. Perhaps some expected it but everyone I knew was staggered. In my local bar some thought it was a Scherzo di Carnevale (like April Fools) and one old boy said it was such an auspicious day he would buy more lottery tickets. The news came out slowly because Benedict announced it in Latin and only a couple of journalists could understand.

Since that moment the journalistic world here in Italy has gone into overdrive. The Papacy is respected, loved, even by the less catholic papers such as La Repubblica, and they, almost as much as the staunchly religious publications, have produced eulogies of Pope Benedict’s eight years on the throne of St. Peter.

Whilst some of the foreign press seemed to have difficulty talking up his successes, Italy was caught up with it all; many Italians still see the Papacy as their own thing.

Speculation has of course turned to who will succeed him, although too much of this can be regarded as vulgar here. At the time of the  death of the last pope I asked a not particularly religious group at a dinner party what the odds were on his successor, only to be told it was distasteful (everyone had a private view, though, and none thought it would be Ratzinger).

This time talk is centred less on what sort of man it will be – all the cardinals who can vote were appointed either by John Paul II or by Benedict, so he will certainly be a doctrinal conservative – than on where he will come from.

There are those who believe the Church needs a Great Communicator, which Benedict wasn’t, and mention the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan. There are plenty, of course, who mistrust the American church, even though it supplies the bulk of the money. Some are saying that after a Pole and a German it is time for another Italian; others believe it is time for the first non-European pope, that the Papacy should turn its face to South America, Africa or the Far East.

The Cardinals have all of Lent to consider, and will be expected to produce the white smoke by Easter. Current betting favours Scola from Italy and Turkson from Ghana, while early favourite Arinze from Nigeria has moved down the order, perhaps owing to doubts over his eligibility. But we mustn’t discuss the odds…

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