Following the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will resign later in the month, attention has shifted to the question of who the next Pontiff will be. There is a consensus that chances have never been better that the next Pontiff will be a non-European.
Among the front-runners, according to bookmakers, are Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson and Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze.
Bloomberg reports that according to bookmakers' odds, Cardinals from Canada, Nigeria and Ghana are the leading candidates to succeed Benedict XVI as Pope.
According to Bloomberg, "Nigeria’s Francis Arinze, 80, is the 2-1 favorite at London-based William Hill Plc, meaning a 1-euro ($1.34) winning wager would return a 2-euro profit. Peter Turkson, 64, of Ghana is second favorite at 5-2. At Paddy Power Plc, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, is the 5-2 front-runner, while Turkson is 3-1 and Arinze is 7-2.
"Paddy Power Plc is also offering odds of 6-4 that the next pontiff will be Italian, with an African at 2-1 and a Central or South American at 10-3."
While Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson is the overall favorite to become Pope after Benedict XVI resigns at the end of the month, Graham Sharpe, spokesman for Williams Hill Plc, said: "When Joseph Ratzinger took over as pope, Francis Arinze ran him close in the betting. We think he may be well placed to succeed him now, although age could be against him."
But some say that even if one of the African contenders become the next Pontiff, it would not be the first time that someone from the African continent has become the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. According to historians, Africa has produced three Popes. The first was Pope Victor I from 189 to 199 A.D.. Pope Miltiades from 311 to 314 and finally Pope Galasius from 492 to 496.
But other analysts would prefer to draw a line between Popes from Roman Africa who may have been "white" in appearance and a Pope from black Africa.
Some pundits say that the Catholic hierarchy may be looking to Latin America where there are 1.2 billion Catholics, about 42 percent of the world's total Catholic population.
Historically, before the pontificate of John Paul II and Benedict XVI from Poland and Germany respectively, the position of Pope had been reserved for Italians. However, beginning with the pontificate of John Paul II, it became implicit that the position was open to all.
But regardless of what "bookies" say, the final decision lies with the College of Cardinals who will elect the new Pope based on their judgement of what is best for the church. The Telegraph reports that given the highly secretive nature of the conclave of the College of Cardinals, predicting who will be the next Pope is an uncertain business. Some Vatican analysts point out the manner in which Pope John Paul II emerged late and unexpectedly in the process that led to his becoming Pope. They also note that many pundits had failed to identify Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a potential choice.
Yet, it appears that the prospects are brightest for Cardinal Kodwo Appah Turkson of Ghana who is the president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. He took over the position from the post of Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Turkson has not shied away from speaking about the prospects for a black African Pope. The Daily Mail reports he once said: "If God would wish to see a black man also as pope, thanks be to God."
According to the Daily Mail, Cardinal Turkson was born in Wassau Nsuta, Western Ghana and studied at the St. Teresa's Seminary in the village of Amisano and Pedu.
He got a Bachelor's degree in theology at St Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselar, New York, and was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop John Amissah in July 1975.
Pope John Paul II made him Archbishop of Cape Coast in October 1992 and he became the first Ghanaian cardinal in 2003.
VOA reports Turkson sparked a controversy last October at a gathering of bishops when he made a presentation using a video called "Muslim Demographics," in which he argued that Muslims could take over Europe at the present birth rates and immigration. The controversy generated embarrassed the Vatican and forced it to denounce the video, saying Turkson had not expressed the official position of the Church.
Turkson is noted for his belief that married couples may use a condom where one of the partners has AIDS. This may seem obvious to ordinary folk, but in non-Western conservative circles of the Catholic Church this is a pretty liberal position for a cardinal to hold. Compare Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze, an arch-conservative, who would not accept use of contraceptive even to prevent AIDS transmission between couples. But at a ripe old age of 80, one may say that he belongs to a different generation than the relatively young Turkson who is only 64.
Incidentally, age may favor Turkson following Benedict XVI's decision to resign on the grounds of old age. In the circumstances, the cardinals may favor a younger Pontiff to replace the outgoing.
Cardinal Arinze, 80, is from southern Nigeria, where he was archbishop of Onitsha for 18 years. He is best known for his inter-religious dialogue efforts. He received an award from the International Council of Christians and Jews for "outstanding achievement in inter-faith relations."
Other top contenders, apart from the African cardinals are mostly from Latin America. They include Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the diocese of Sao Paolo, Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican department for Eastern Churches, Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 77 and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga, 70. European contenders include Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, and his compatriot Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 70,
It appears that Latin American candidates have the best chances against the African stars. Recently, two senior Vatican officials spoke openly in support of Latin America. Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said: "I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the universal Church."
Very recently he told Duesseldorf's Rheinische Post newspaper that: "The universal Church teaches that Christianity isn't centered on Europe."
Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for Christian unity, told the Swiss paper Tagesanzeiger daily that the Church's future was not in Europe. He said: "It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave." The Daily Mail reports that when he was asked if he would vote for a non-European over an equally qualified European candidate, he answered, "Yes." without hesitation.
Bloomberg reports that the new Pope will be chosen through a conclave, a gathering of cardinals that will remain sequestered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they chose a successor. Pope Benedict will have no role in the process of emergence of the next Pontiff.