The first reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's announcement, in Latin at the end of an unrelated ceremony, that he is resigning Feb. 28 was shock. "The pope took us by surprise," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a press conference.
"We were all left...." Monsignor Oscar Sanchez of Mexico tells The Guardian's John Hooper, trailing off. "The cardinals were just looking at one another. Then the pope got to his feet, gave his benediction and left. It was so simple; the simplest thing imaginable. Extraordinary. Nobody expected it."
The second reaction, say Elisabetta Povoledo and Alan Cowell at The New York Times, was "frenzied speculation about his likely successor." Perhaps because lots of reputable, astute Vatican watchers are also inveterate gamblers, or perhaps because Irish bookmakers want the free publicity, betting site Paddy Power rushed in with its odds on the next pontiff, and Ladbrokers followed close behind. Topping both lists:
1. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana
2. Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada
3. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria
4. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy
5. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras
After Pope Benedict steps down at the end of February, the Catholic Church will be without a pope until cardinal electors (all cardinals younger than 80) elect a new one, possibly by Easter in late March. There's no real way to know who will emerge as the next head of the world's billion-plus Catholics — in theory, the pope doesn't have to be a cardinal, or even a priest. "Predicting who will be the next pope is a presumptive and precarious endeavor," says Edward Pentin at Newsmax. But the Top 5 from the bookmakers isn't too far off from what other Vatican observers are saying, with a few more thrown in. So who are these prelates?
1. Cardinal Turkson
An African hasn't been pope since the early church, but Africa is now one of the fastest-growing regions in Catholicism, so it's no real surprise that the 64-year-old Ghanaian, currently president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is high up on speculative lists. His position at the justice and peace council, which he has held since 2009, has sent him around the world, giving him high visibility among church leaders. Turkson speaks six languages.
2. Cardinal Ouellet
The 68-year-old former Archbishop of Quebec is popular among his peers. "Noted for his cheerful, open, and humble persona, as well as his uncompromising orthodoxy, Cardinal Ouellet often is regarded as the cardinal to watch for the future," says Newsmax's Pentin. He is prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, meaning that he has selected bishops to be elevated throughout the world. He's also president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, which looks after and provides guidance to the most populous Catholic part of the world. Ouellet "would tick the 'global church' box without unnerving European cardinals alarmed that the election of an African would result in a decline in their power," says Alex Spillius at Britain's The Telegraph. "However, he once said becoming pope 'would be a nightmare.'"
3. Cardinal Arinze
Arinze's age, 80, will probably prove a handicap for the Nigerian cardinal, but you never know. "Given the abruptness of Benedict's departure," says The Telegraph's Spillius, "Arinze might seem a safer bet." He was a favorite in 2005, and he's still the top pick of William Hill bookmakers. When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, "Arinze took over from him as cardinal bishop of Velletri-Segni," a William Hill spokesman tells the AFP. "It could be that he'll follow in his footsteps again." Both Turkson and Arinze are "sufficiently doctrinal to please conservatives, while their developing world background will please liberals," adds Spillius.
4. Cardinal Scola
"If the college of cardinals plays it safe and stays in Europe, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan would be in pole position," says The Telegraph's Spillius. Italians still make up a quarter of the College of Cardinals, and before being named Milan's archbishop he was patriarch of Venice, a position previously held by three 20th century popes. He's considered a theological conservative.
5. Cardinal Maradiaga
The 70-year-old Honduran is probably as close to being a rock star as you get among the cardinals. He actually plays jazz — saxophone and piano — but he is friends with a bona fide rock star, U2's Bono. Whether or not he is a front-runner like he was believed to be in 2005, Maradiaga certainly thinks it is time for a Latino or African pope. "A southern pope would undoubtedly help to resolve a problem that endangers the future of the planet," the "war between rich and poor," he has said.
6. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
The 67-year-old Archbishop of Vienna is already royalty, the third cardinal in three centuries from an aristocratic Austrian family. He was considered perhaps too young when Benedict was elected, but he's considered theologically similar to the outgoing pope and is a favorite this time around. Of course, "Vatican lore has it that cardinals tipped as front-runners in advance of the vote rarely triumph," say Povoledo and Cowell in The New York Times. Schoenborn is right up there with Ouellet and Scola, especially assuming the cardinals don't look south for the next pope.
7. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier
Among those advocating for the 72-year-old Archbishop of Durban is his own Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, albeit indirectly. "It would be sheer speculation but for a long time our church has been saying the next pope should be selected from a 'missionary territory', which means Africa, Asia or South America," a spokesman tells The Telegraph. "Cardinal Napier is right up there." The Franciscan has actually "been tipped as a potential black African Pope for some time," says Newsmax's Pentin. "Charismatic, humble and pastorally effective, he is a keen advocate of social justice" but also a staunch opponent of abortion and the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.
8. Cardinal Jorge Marion Bergoglio
The 76-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires was reportedly the runner-up behind Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave. Described as a humble, simple priest, Bergoglio "would be the first Jesuit to reach the highest seat in the Catholic Church," says Newsmax's Pentin. He avoids reporters, rides public transportation, and reportedly doesn't care much for the church bureaucracy, though he is a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy.
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