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Is Latin America under-represented in papal conclave?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While Latin America is home to 41 percent of all of the world's Roman Catholics, of the 117 cardinals to decide the new pope, only 21 are from those nations. Almost half of the cardinals to take part in the selection process are from Europe. This numerical disparity has quashed the notion that the pope to succeed Benedict will be form Latin America.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Everywhere, from the mayor of Mexico City to bishops and newspaper columnists through the region, the prospects for a first Hispanic pontiff have been raised.

Patches of Latin America have embraced a more socially active vision of the church's role in alleviating poverty and resisting dictatorships over the past 50 years. "Liberation Theology" has proved highly controversial in the Vatican, where conservatives have been wary of the movement's overt Marxist sympathies.

Benedict XVI, before succeeding John Paul II, took on the misguided Liberation Theologians, whom he described as a "fundamental threat to the faith of the church."

However, none of the Latin American candidates are likely to introduce radical changes, although they may offer a change of tone and a continental shift in perspectives.

The most likely candidate from Latin America is Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who rose to public attention when he served as the voice of John Paul while the last pope was unable to speak due to Parkinson's disease. Sandri also announced the pontiff's death. The 69-year-old Sandri, conversant in five languages, has held several senior positions in the Vatican, including his current role as head of the congregation of Oriental churches, which makes him responsible for Catholics in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the Holy Land.

Some commentators noted that Sandri's star has been waning in recent years. His current role is less influential than the positions he occupied under John Paul.

Demographically, the leading Latin American candidate would probably be Odilo Pedro Scherer, the 63-year-old archbishop of Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil and the continent.

The possibility of a first Hispanic pope has been widely picked up in the Brazilian media. Veja magazine speculated that Scherer might be in the frame as there are five Brazilians among the 119 cardinals who are eligible to vote.

Brazil is the world's biggest Catholic nation with an estimated 150 million believers, 75 percent of the population, which is a decline on the 90 percent recorded in the past. This is a result of secularism and a strong challenge by evangelical Methodist groups and Islam. Brazil's importance to the church was evident in Benedict XVI's decision to make Sao Paulo the destination in 2007 of his first of his two trips to Latin America.

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