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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Who wears the shoes of the fisherman?

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah

On Monday, the 11th of February 2013, overwhelming shock engulfed the Catholic World when the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, and Successor of St Peter – the Fisherman, announced his decision to resign at the end of February, on age and health grounds; making him the first Pope to stand down in almost 600 years. Barely 48 hours after Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising February 28 resignation hint, both Roman Catholics and non-Catholics have begun intense speculation about who will become the next leader of the over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and bookmakers have already started placing odds on his successor.

As a matter of fact, Canon Law states that any baptized, practising Catholic male is eligible to be elected. This infers that even I, Black Power, am a potential Pope; but let’s face fact; the Canon Law’s pronouncement is only of theoretical and certainly not practical significance.

Some of the well-known non-cardinals who were elected Pope are Popes Celestine V, Clement V, Gregory X, Urban IV, Urban V, and Urban VI who was in fact the last Pope to be elected from outside the College of Cardinals. This means that since the late 14th Century (specifically 1389) the Pope has come from that noble body known as the College of Cardinals.

It is thus almost certain that the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will be chosen from the current 117 eligible cardinals (those under 80 years) who will be locking themselves up in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in a few weeks’ time.

Many theologians and religious experts maintain that the probable successor to Pope Benedict XVI will not only be one likely to continue his conservative vision with a younger and more energetic outlook, but will possibly hail from either sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America considering the extraordinary rate at which Catholicism is growing in these regions.

It must be clarified that the Catholic Church has in fact had at least three popes of African descent in the past: Pope Victor I elected in 189 AD, Pope Miltiades elected in 311AD and Pope Gelasius I in 492. However, all these figures were from the northern part of Africa.

Interestingly, over twenty frontrunners have currently emerged in the search for a new man to wear the shoes of the Fisherman following the shock resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. However, twelve of the names that persistently appear on the numerous lists of heavily-tipped candidates that have surfaced so far and are still emerging are:

1. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68 (Canada). He is the former Archbishop of Quebec, and the current head of the Congregation of Bishops, with strong Curial connections. 2. Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, 64 (Ghana). He is the head of Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace. The former Archbishop of Cape Coast became the first-ever Ghanaian cardinal in 2003 when he was appointed by Pope John Paul II. 3. Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71 (Italy). The former Patriarch of Venice is currently the archbishop of Milan, and probably the most prominent Italian candidate. 4. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, 67 (Austria). He is the Archbishop of Vienna, and viewed as the strongest non-Italian candidate from within Europe. 5. Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63 (German-Brazilian). He is the archbishop of Sao Paulo and perhaps the most prominent Latin American candidate. 6. Gianfranco Ravasi, 69 (Italian). He is the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and is known as a master communicator. 7. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 70 (Honduras). He is the current Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, and president of Caritas Internationalis. 8. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio 76 (Argentina). He is the archbishop of Buenos Aires 9. Cardinal Luis Tagle, 55 (Philippines). The archbishop of Manila who has a presence on Facebook is one of the youngest potential candidates. 10. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69 (Argentina – born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents). He is the head of the Vatican department for Eastern Churches. 11. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 62, (United States of America). He is the archbishop of New York, 12. Joao Braz de Aviz, 65 (Brazil). He is the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life Cardinal Francis Arinze, 80, from Nigeria, who was one of the principal advisers to Pope John Paul II is considered a huge contender, but unfortunately, his age will rule him out.

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement, the bookies began their betting activities on the likely successor. At William Hill, Britain’s largest bookmaker, odds were set at 7/2 for Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power had Cardinals Ouellet, Turkson and Arinze as frontrunners, but made Ouellet the favourite; while Ladbrokes, another top bookmaker named Cardinal Turkson as the leading contender at 5/2.

Clearly, the stage is set for a Conclave (a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new pope). Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will be chosen by the 117 cardinal-electors during a Conclave, in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Interestingly, over half of the cardinal-electors (approximately 61) are from Europe, 21 of those being Italians; 19 Latin Americans; 14 North Americans; 11 Africans; 11 Asians and one cardinal from Oceania.

The big questions therefore are: Will the College of Cardinals which is predominantly European be comfortable with an African Pope? Will they be humble and impartial enough to cast their votes for a Black African to head them? Is the Roman Catholic Church itself ready to have a Pope from Africa? Is the entire world ready to accept and welcome a Pope from the region they unfairly refer to as ‘the dark continent’? Only time will tell.

But don’t be surprised if after days of deliberation in the Sistine Chapel, the College of Cardinals, directed by the Holy Spirit, send for one Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah, or even you … yes, you the reader of this article, if you are a baptized male Catholic, to wear the shoes of the Fisherman, as technically all baptized male Catholics are eligible for the most sacred job on earth.

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is an Investigative Journalist, a researcher and the author of Fourth Phase of Enslavement (2011) and In My End is My Beginning (2012). He may be contacted via email (