North Americans the favourites as conclave prepares for business
When 115 cardinals from around the world parade into the Sistine Chapel tomorrow to elect a new Pope, their deliberations will be overshadowed by a previously unthinkable scenario – a pontiff from North America.
As the red-hatted "princes of the church" prepare to cast the first of their secret ballots in front of Michelangelo's chilling fresco of The Last Judgment, there is growing speculation in Rome that the man chosen to be Pope might hail from the other side of the Atlantic.
Likely "papabili", or papal candidates, include Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, who has been praised for dealing with the fallout from paedophile sex abuse scandals; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the charismatic 63-year-old archbishop of New York; and Marc Ouellet, a conservative French Canadian who is head of the Congregation for Bishops.
The traditional view within the Vatican has always been that it would be wrong – even dangerous – to have a Pope who comes from the United States because it already wields quite enough temporal power around the globe.
The last thing the Roman Catholic Church wants, as it engages in complex international issues such as the spread of Muslim extremism and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, is the perception that it is biased towards Washington. But with a perception that US hegemony is diminishing amid one of the most open papal elections for decades, that orthodoxy could be turned on its head.
When 'Corriere della Sera', the Italian daily, asked eight of its Vatican analysts to nominate their three favourites for Pope at the weekend, 68-year-old Cardinal O'Malley was by far the most popular choice, followed by Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil and Angelo Scola of Italy.
The 11 American cardinals taking part in the conclave are the second biggest grouping by nationality after the Italians, who account for 28 of the 115 cardinal electors. Since arriving in Rome to attend last week's pre-conclave discussions, the Americans have impressed with their informal ways, efforts at transparency and sense of humour, all of which contrasts with the stuffiness and reserve associated with the church in Rome.
When Cardinal Dolan held a Mass at a parish church in Rome yesterday, he received an almost rock star welcome, cracking jokes and establishing an easy rapport in a way that eludes the majority of his brother cardinals.
However, he has never served in a Vatican office and he has been heavily criticised by the victims of paedophile priests for covering up cases.
Vatican analysts said yesterday that in reality the chances of an American becoming Pope were slim. "I think they are all long shots," said John Allen, the author of 'Conclave,' a book about the papal electoral process.
Cardinal O'Malley "sometimes has difficulty making tough decisions," he said, whereas Cardinal Dolan is "just too American – he's too brash, too swashbuckling". ( © Daily Telegraph, London)
Analysis: p 27 The contenders