Published February 22, 2013
If it were up to some Catholics, Europe’s domination of the papal seat would be over when the conclave meets to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
About 60 percent of Catholics in the United States believe that the next pope should come from a developing region of the world such as South America, Asia or Africa, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.
“American Catholics are aware that no other North American group is as important to the Church as Latinos,” Paul Lakeland, a religious studies professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, told Fox News Latino. “It’s not surprising how attracted they are to having a pope from south of the equator.”
Lakeland added that U.S. Catholics want a more liberal pope in terms of issues such as permitting priest to marry. This assertion seems to echo the Pew study’s finding that found 46 percent of Catholics want the Church to move in a new direction and 58 percent believe it is good idea to allow priests to marry.
A pope from Latin America, however, may not provide the liberalizing policies that some U.S. Catholics hope for. The days of Liberation Theology – a 1960s theological movement that finds in the Gospel a call to free people from political, social and material oppression – are gone and the Catholic Church in Latin America is now dominated by religiously conservative cardinals, Lakeland said.
“Latin America includes a few very progressive cardinals, but for the most part it is very conservative,” Lakeland said. “There’s a disjunction between what Catholics in the U.S. want and what the cardinals in Latin America are thinking.”
Two long shot candidates from Latin America are Argentina’s Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Honduras’ Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga.
Bergoglio, who heads the Church in Buenos Aires, distanced himself from the Liberation Theology movement and holds conservative ideas when it comes to abortion, AIDs and homosexuality.
"It's time for there to be a Latin American pope, because Latin America has the greatest number of Christians," said the Rev. Juan Angel López, spokesman for the Catholic Church of Honduras, according to The Associated Press. His choice, Honduran Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, however, is considered far too liberal to be elected by such a conservative bloc.
The concern of U.S. Catholics for a pope out of the traditional European realm aside, Catholic scholars believe a Latin American pope would be a positive for the Church.
“It makes an enormous amount of sense to a have a pope from south of the equator,” Lakeland said. “There’s a very good reason for it. That’s where the Church is, that’s where the vitality is.”
Brazil is the country with the most Catholics in the world, numbering over 126 million, with Mexico coming in second with over 96 million devotees. With just over 49 million worshippers, Italy is the European nation with the most Catholics and fifth overall worldwide, squeezing in between the United States and Colombia.
Despite these figures, Lakeland sees Europe as a strong contender for retaining the papal seat, even as the European Church is considered to be in a compromised position right now.
“The Church north of the equator right now is considered sick,” Lakeland said, referencing the sex abuse scandals that have wrecked havoc on the institution both in the U.S. and Europe. “It would be difficult for the cardinals to choose somebody from Latin America, Africa or Asia to deal with a supposed European problem.”