Who will be the next pope?

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
April 1 2005 6:00 PM

Papal Chase

Will the next pope be black, Hispanic, American, a Jew?

Editor's note: This article originally ran in 2003, when Pope John Paul II was experiencing a serious enough illness to make people begin to speculate about who might be his successor. This article has been slightly modified and updated.

So, who will the next pope be—a black, a Hispanic, an American, or a Jew?

No, it's not a joke. All four are real possibilities.

The biggest differences between the papal selection process now and the last time are demographic ones. Of the five countries with the biggest Catholic populations, only one (Italy) is European. Forty-six percent of the world's Catholics are in Latin America; there are more Catholics in the Philippines than in Italy. In 1955 there were 16 million Catholics in all of Africa; today there are 120 million.

The cardinals who will be electing the next pope are a conservative group. All but five of the 117 * voting cardinals (aka "cardinal electors") were appointed by Pope John Paul II, and most share his views. So, we probably won't see a flaming lefty as the next pontiff. Likely factors the cardinals will consider when voting: Do they pick a Third Worlder to reflect demographics or someone to shore up Old Europe Christendom? Do they want a young (well, under 70), telegenic man to explain Catholicism to the world? Or an older fellow who won't stick around for quite so long?

Advertisement

John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, cites an old Italian saying, "Always follow a fat pope with a skinny pope." But if there's a backlash, many analysts believe it will likely be against this pope's penchant for centralizing authority, not against his ideology.

The most frequently mentioned papabili among the pope-watching cognoscenti are:

Francis Arinze
Country: Nigeria
Age: 72
Assets: Black! Third Worlder. Can go nose-to-nose with Islam.
Liabilities: Black? Maybe too conservative. African Catholic Church too young.

If chosen, Arinze, besides rocking the world as the first black pope, would also be a good pope to have in charge in a time of religious conflict. The former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Arinze is Mr. Interfaith and helped arrange Pope John Paul II's first-ever visit to a mosque. "Theologically, all people come from the same God," he has said.

Deborah Caldwell, senior religion editor of Beliefnet, says of the electors, "They have to go with a Third World cardinal because of the shift of Christianity's vast numbers to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They just HAVE to," she says. "And if you add in the global clash between Islam and Christianity, the clear choice is Arinze."

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.