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 Francis Arinze could be the next pope
The Next Pope Could be Black or Hispanic
By: George E. Curry
NNPA, Editor-in-Chief
Originally posted 4/4/2005


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Profound demographic changes in the Catholic church could open the door for a Black or Hispanic to succeed Pope John Paul II, church authorities say.

The clear front-runner among Blacks is Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Until his recent appointment as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Arinze had served as president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. He was consecrated as bishop in 1965 at the age of 32.

Morley Safer, in an interview Sunday on “60 Minutes,” raised the possibility of mass defections among White Americans and Europeans if a Black were elected pope.

Father Thomas J. Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican,” scoffed at that notion.

“If someone is going to leave the church because we have a Black pope, in my opinion, they should have left the church years ago,” Reese stated on “60 Minutes.”

There are 67.2 million Catholics in the U.S., approximately 2 million of them African-Americans. Catholics make up 23 percent of the U.S. population. There are 8 million Catholics in the Dominican Republic and 6 million in Haiti, according to the Catholic Almanac.

Catholicism has exploded on the African continent, rising from 7 million in 1914 to 120 million in 2000. Over the next two years, Catholics in Africa are expected to outstrip the number in Europe.

According to the Catholic Almanac, there are approximately 200 million Catholics of African descent.

There are more English-speaking Catholics in Africa than in all other continents combined. The National Black Catholic Congress reports that there are 24.7 million Catholics in Zaire, 17 million in Nigeria, 12.8 million in Uganda, 11.6 million in Tanzania and 9 million in Kenya.

In addition to Arinze, another long-shot chance to become pope is Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa.

Many news outlets have reported incorrectly that if elected, Arinze or Napier would become the first Black pope. Actually, it would be the fourth time a Black assumed the throne at the Vatican. The three earlier African popes, all of them now saints, were: Pope Saint Victor 1 (183-203 A.D.), Pope Saint Gelasius 1 (492-496 A.D.) and Pope Saint Miliades 1 (311-314 A.D.).

Some scholars are saying it is Latin America’s turn to have a pope. Almost half of the world’s Catholics – 46 percent – are in Latin America.

The most frequently mentioned Latin American candidates are Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the archbishop of Sao Paul, Brazil and Jaime Lucas Orteg y Alamino of Cuba.

Pope John Paul II broke a 450-year stranglehold on the office by Italians. The pope is also known as the bishop of Rome and Italians are eager to reclaim the throne. However, with population and influence shifting from Europe to Africa and Latin America, they face an uphill battle.

The pope will be selected by 117 Roman Catholic cardinals. In order to vote, cardinals must by younger than 80. Fifteen days after the pope’s death, the cardinals gather to pick his successor.

Complicating matters for people of color, the College of Cardinals does not reflect church membership. Of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, approximately 46 percent live in Latin America, 26 percent in Europe, 13 percent in Africa and 10 percent in Asia. Only 5 percent’s of the world’s Catholics live in Italy yet Italians comprise 35 percent of the voting cardinals.

Although Latin America has almost half of the Catholic population, it makes up less than 20 percent of the College of Cardinals, the body that will elect the next pope. The election process begins with an oath of secrecy. They discuss the candidates and then write their preference on a paper ballot. On the first day, votes are taken once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

On following days, two votes are taken in the morning and one in the afternoon. If no one wins with a two-thirds majority on the first 30 ballots, then a simple majority can elect the next pope.

The cardinals, in selecting a new leader for the church, will weigh such factors as a candidate’s age, evidently in an effort to not have the next pope serve 26 years as John Paul II did. His tenure was double the average term for popes in this century.

They must also consider the direction of the church. Considering that practically all of the cardinals were chosen by John Paul II, regardless of who is selected, they are not likely to veer from the current pope’s conservative teachings on abortion, the ordination of women, euthanasia, birth control and homosexuality.

Cardinal Arinze, the leading Black candidate, is one of the hard-line candidates.

In a 2003 commencement speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Arinze said: “In many parts of the world, the family is under siege, opposed by an anti-life mentality as seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions, and cut in two by divorce.”

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