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Next Pope could be a Nigerian

By Fraser Nelson

The first papal resignation since 1415 will throw the world’s attention on Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, who is the bookies’ favourite to succeed Benedict XVI. Not so long ago, the candidates would all be Italians.

Now, the odds on a pope from the third world are quite high. Europe now stands out as a secularist anomaly in a world where religion is strong and growing stronger, as we argue in this week’s Spectator.

Nigerian_Pope

There is an saying in the Vatican: young cardinals vote for old popes. This bodes will for the 80-year-old Cardinal Arinze, an Igbo Nigerian who spent 25 years in the Vatican. He was, once, the world’s youngest bishop.

He is quite conservative, as the last two Popes were, and was seen as a runner last time. The liberal Cardinals will like the idea of a Pope from the developing world. The new rules mean a new Pope needs the votes of two-thirds of the Cardinals, so one faction cannot impose its will over another.

Since no one expected Benedict’s resignation, it could well be that the Cardinals are not ready to come up with a long-term solution. Older popes are, historically, a form of compromise. Arinze himself can’t vote, having turned 80. There are only ten African electors left.

Coral and William Hill both have Arinze as favourite. A Hill spokesman said:-

“When we opened betting last time around, in 2005, Francis Arinze was our favourite. His odds did drift towards the date of the announcement when Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) became the favourite, but he remained in the top three. Also, when Ratzinger became pope, Arinze took over from him as cardinal bishop of Velletri-Segni (a Catholic diocese close to Rome) —— it could be that he’ll follow in his footsteps again.”

The bookies may well have it wrong: odds simply reflect the weight of money, and the market may not be very liquid. Most bets were placed before anyone thought a race was really likely. We are in uncharted territory – will the pope’s presence influence his successor? What will his role be? Indeed, what do we call him: Pontiff Emeritus? Ex-Benedict? And while Arinze was a runner in 2005 he retired a few years ago, hardly demonstrating an appetite for the far-greater demands of the papacy.

If a younger pope is called for there is another African option in the form of the young (by papal standards) Peter Turkson, a Ghanian. There are hints that he is Benedict’s favourite candidate: not so long ago the pope said that having a African pontiff (for the first time in 1500 years) would “send a splendid signal to the world” about the universality of the church.

But is this what Benedict wants? He has appointed surprisingly few Africans to the electoral college, as John L Allen pointed out last year. Allen had this to say:

In general, today’s nominations reinforce the dominance of the West in the College of Cardinals. Only three of the 18 new electors come from the developing world — one Brazilian, one Indian, and one from China (Hong Kong). In that sense, the College of Cardinals will continue to be unrepresentative of Catholic demography, given that two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today live in the global south, a share projected to rise to three-quarters by mid-century.

Coral’s odds will probably change quickly, as money is placed. But right now, they are as follows:

Cardinal Francis Arinze 7/4 of Nigeria. Age 80.

Cardinal Peter Turkson 2/1 of Ghana, Age 64. Appointed by Benedict four years ago to become president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet 5/1 of Canada, Age 68

Archbishop Angelo Scola 8/1, an Italian philosopher. Aged 71.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga 10/1. A Honduran who was President of the Latin American Episcopal Conference. Age 70

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone 12/1, an Italian prelate. Aged 78

PS I should add that betting is a mug’s game. It all depends on the preferences of a tiny group of pension-age cardinals, who tend not to tell anyone what they’re thinking. But if anyone would know what they’re thinking, it’s Benedict. He may well have decided to stand down now (rather than die in office, as popes have done for the last few centuries) because he thinks the stars are aligning for his favoured candidate - Spectator.