When Pope Benedict visited Brazil in 2007, the local man at his side was Odilo Scherer, whom he had just made archbishop of São Paulo, once the biggest Catholic archdiocese in the world.
The descendant of immigrants from the German Saarland who settled in the south of Brazil, this discreet prelate, who stands out as a conservative in what is Brazil’s traditionally liberal Catholic Church, clearly impressed the pope. Shortly after his return to Rome he handed Archbishop Scherer a cardinal’s hat.
As the leading cardinal in the world’s most populous Catholic nation, he is frequently tipped to become the first non-European pope. His predecessor, Cláudio Hummes, was reportedly one of the candidates defeated by Benedict in 2005.
As a conservative, Cardinal Scherer’s elevation to the archbishopric signalled the end of years of struggle by the Vatican to rein in a powerful centre of the Latin church which it considered too liberal.
In 1989 Pope John Paul II stripped the archdiocese of much of its outlying regions and today Cardinal Scherer oversees a shrunken territory whose role in Brazil’s national life is much reduced. After almost six years in his job, he remains little known in his city.
Firmly in line with Rome’s position on abortion Cardinal Scherer (63) has opposed the limited attempts to liberalise Brazil’s ban on the procedure.
Despite his attacks on liberation theology, the doctrine once prevalent in the Brazilian church and which the Vatican suspected was polluted by Marxism, Cardinal Scherer is an advocate of greater social justice for Brazil’s poor.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is a Vatican insider but his appointment as pope would nonetheless break new ground for he is both African and black.
Three previous popes came from Africa – Victor I (189 to 199), Miltiades (310/311 to 314) and Gelasius I (492 to 496) – but each is assumed to have been Caucasian, although some sources, notably the Liber Pontficalis, the oldest record of popes in the early church, state that Miltiades was a native of Africa, suggesting he could have been black.
Cardinal Turkson, who is aged 64, is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a position given to him by Benedict in 2009. Before that, he was archbishop of Ghana’s Cape Coast ecclesiastical province.
Within the curia, he is also a member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department formerly headed by Benedict.
In 1995, he was described as “one of Africa’s most energetic church leaders” by the Tablet, a leading Catholic magazine in Britain.
Cardinal Turkson has tackled issues as diverse as difficulties in communicating the Vatican’s message to North America, global financial and social justice, and contraception.
Asked in 2009 about the possibility of a black pope, he responded: “Why not?” Bookies yesterday rated him 5-2 to succeed Benedict.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri is the man who announced the death of Pope John Paul II. During John Paul’s declining health, Cardinal Sandri was chosen to read the texts that the pope could not personally deliver.
On April 2nd, 2005, it was he who appeared in St Peter’s Square to say: “Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father . . . We all feel like orphans this evening.”
Today, Cardinal Sandri (69), of Argentina, is prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Before this post, he was part of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, serving as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela (1997-2000), to Mexico (2000) and substitute for general affairs (2000-2007). He was appointed a cardinal in 2007.
Despite his South American background, Cardinal Sandri has Italian roots – a fact that might help him in a tight contest.
His parents, Antonio Enrico Sandri and Nella Righi, emigrated to Argentina from Ala, a village in Trentino in Italy.
The young Sandri studied humanities, philosophy and theology at the Metropolitan Seminary of Buenos Aires, and was ordained in 1967.
Further studies in Rome, at the Pontifical Gregorian University, earned him a doctorate in canon law. There followed a diplomatic career in eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean French dependency islands of Comoros and Réunion.
He then served in the Vatican, holding various positions until, in June 2007, he was appointed to his current position.
Bookies rate Cardinal Sandri’s chances of replacing Benedict at 5-1.
Timothy Dolan, the 62-year-old Cardinal Archbishop of New York, emerged yesterday as among those tipped to be in the running to succeed Pope Benedict.
A native of St Louis, Missouri, Cardinal Dolan has Irish connections – links beyond his surname. As Archbishop of New York, he was a member of the apostolic visitation to Ireland announced by Benedict in March 2010 in response to the Ryan and Murphy reports on clerical sexual abuse of children in 2009.
In 2010, he was elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, becoming the first New York bishop to attain the post. Two years later, Pope Benedict elevated him to cardinal.
In many respects, Cardinal Dolan is a typical American: outgoing, vocal, confident and dynamic – qualities not usually associated with the curia.
But he’s a conservative on the key issues of concern to the church, and not afraid of speaking out. In 2008, he rebuked Democratic vice-
presidential candidate then-US senator Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for “misrepresenting timeless church doctrine” on abortion.
A year later, he charged that Barack Obama had “taken a position very much at odds with the church” on abortion, and said the University of Notre Dame had made a “big mistake” in selecting Mr Obama to deliver its graduation ceremony’s speech.
He supports clerical celibacy. “The recent sad scandal of clerical sexual abuse of minors . . . has nothing to do with our celibate commitment,” he wrote in 2003. In an interview with the New York Post in 2009, he reasserted the church’s opposition to gay marriage.