Roman Catholics are still absorbing the news that a pope is to resign for the first time in 600 years, however thoughts have quickly turned to who will succeed him.
Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement that he will step down on February 28 due to his advanced age has sparked speculation that perhaps it is time for the church to elect its first non-European leader.
German-born Benedict, was elected in April 2005 after Poland’s John Paul II died.
The post once reserved for Italians is now open to all. With 42 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion-strong Catholic population living in Latin America
two names being circulated are Odilo Sherer,
archbishop of the huge diocese of Sao Paolo and
Leonardo Sandri, a Vatican based Italian-Argentine archbishop.
Then there is Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana. The attraction of a non-European candidate is the prospect of being able to focus on issues closer to Catholics in developing countries.
Europe which has half the cardinals in the conclave which will select the new Pope, still has strong contenders, among them Angelo Scola archbishop of Milan.
However any number of other possibles are likely to be added to the list. But the fact that Benedict cited health reasons for his resignation could push the church into favouring younger candidates no matter where they come from.