MANILA, Philippines --- Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is among the frontrunners to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world after announcing he will be resigning by the end of the month.
Tagle was described as a religious leader with a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul II. He is also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission. While he has many fans, he only became a cardinal in 2012 and conclaves are wary of young candidates.
Malacañang said it is an honor for the Philippines to have Tagle as one of the possible candidates for next pope.
"Certainly, it is an honor for the Philippines for news reports to consider Cardinal Tagle as what we call a 'papabili' so it's really an honor," Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing yesterday.
While there are no official candidates yet, other "papabili" (potential popes) aside from Tagle who have been most frequently mentioned recently are:
- Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of its advocates. Possible drawbacks include his low profile.
- Timothy Dolan, (USA, 62) became the voice of US Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humor and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing. But cardinals are wary of a "superpower pope" and his back-slapping style may be too American for some.
- Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare." Though well connected within the Curia, the widespread secularism of his native Quebec could work against him.
- Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile could hurt him if cardinals decide they need an experienced pastor rather than another professor as pope.
- Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a "transatlantic" figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007. But he has no pastoral experience and his job overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome.
- Odilo Pedro Scherer (Brazil, 63) ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. Archbishop of Sao Paulo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere. The rapid growth of Protestant churches in Brazil could count against him.
- Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 67) is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The Vienna archbishop has ranked as papal material since editing the Church catechism in the 1990s. But some cautious reform stands and strong dissent by some Austrian priests could hurt him.
- Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
- Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial reform. He showed a video criticizing Muslims at a recent Vatican synod, raising doubts about how he sees Islam.
While Tagle is among the contenders, reports said that the time may be coming for the Roman Catholic Church to elect its first non-European leader and it could be a Latin American.
The region already represents 42 percent of the world's 1.2 billion-strong Catholic population, the largest single bloc in the Church, compared to 25 percent in its European heartland.
After the Pole John Paul and German-born Benedict, the post once reserved for Italians is now open to all. The new pope will be the man that the cardinals who elect him at the next conclave think will guide the Church best.
Two senior Vatican officials recently dropped surprisingly clear hints about possible successors. The upshot of their remarks is that the next pope could well be from Latin America.
"I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the universal Church," said Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who now holds the pope's old post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"The universal Church teaches that Christianity isn't centered on Europe," the German-born archbishop told Duesseldorf's Rheinische Post newspaper just before Christmas.
Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for Christian unity, told the Tagesanzeiger daily in Zurich at the same time that the Church's future was not in Europe.
"It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave," he said, referring to the closed-door election in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.
Asked if he would vote for a non-European over a European candidate if they were equally qualified, he responded: "Yes."
Changes In Style, Not Doctrine
Those two interviews took place at a time when there was no speculation about Benedict leaving and Church leaders may be less frank now that a conclave is looming.
The fact that Benedict cited health reasons for resigning could favor younger candidates, no matter where they are from.
The attraction of a non-European candidate would be in the change of style he could provide and the focus he could direct on issues closer to Catholics in developing countries.
Since all cardinals who will vote in the conclave were named by the conservative John Paul or Benedict, few would be expected to make major changes on issues such as artificial birth control, homosexuality or a wider role for women in the Church.
If it now really is Latin America's turn, the leading candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of Sao Paulo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.
Scherer, a Brazilian of German origin, ranks as a moderate because he both denounced the political activism of Latin America's "liberation theology" but retained its broader social concern about poverty and injustice.
A moral conservative, he has campaigned against abortion even in cases of rape or when the woman's life is at risk. He has also blamed the government's safe-sex condom distribution program for sexual promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies.
He is just as firm against homosexuality. "Sexuality is not an 'option' but a fact of nature and a gift of God," he wrote in 2011. "The increasing ambiguity and confusion in relation to sexual identity, which is taking over our culture, is a cause for concern."
Meanwhile, Fr. Francis Lucas, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Social Communication and Mass Media, said that as the only qualified Filipino cardinal-elector, Cardinal Tagle is automatically a candidate for the papacy.
He said technically Tagle can become the next Pope since he is one of the cardinal-electors that will elect the next Pope during a Conclave.
"Even during the time when he was appointed as cardinal many were already predicting that he might be the next pope, that he is papabili and in a sense that is also true," he said in an interview.
"But as what I often say, let us not think of that yet since the ones who really choose a pope is the Holy Spirit which guides the assembly of the cardinals," added Lucas. (With reports from Madel S. Namit and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)