With Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, it may be Latin America’s turn to take control of the papacy, and some point to Brazilian Archbishop Odilo Scherer as the leading candidate.
Though the Vatican has been led by an unbroken chain of Europeans, demographics make a compelling case to look to Latin America to fill the vacancy. Some 42 percent of the world’s Catholics now live in Latin America, making the region home to the largest group of Catholics on the planet, according to Reuters. Europe is home to just 25 percent of the world’s Catholics.
Darci Nicioli, Auxiliary Bishop of Aparecida, told Brazil’s G1 that Scherer is one of five Brazilian cardinals in the running for the Papacy.
“All Cardinals less than 80 years old are candidates and can vote to choose the new Pope, but we know that depends on the Holy Spirit,” Nicioli told Brazil’s G1. “So we’re going to prey hard so that the best Cardinal is selected.”
Reuters considers Scherer the strongest Latin American candidate to replace Pope Benedict, yet Joao Braz de Aviz is also viewed as a strong candidate.
Born in the Southeastern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Scherer is descended from German immigrants. The 63-year-old Archbishop of São Paulo holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
In 2007, Scherer took over the Archdiocese of São Paulo -- Brazil’s largest, with 6 million Catholics, according to the BBC.
Though considered conservative within Brazil, Scherer professes more centrist political views than the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI, who opposed the leftwing political movement within the Church in Latin America known as “liberation theology” in the 1980s, according to The New York Times.
Followers of liberation theology, which remains popular in Brazil, believe the Church should ally itself politically with the poor based on their interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Opponents within the Church condemned the movement’s affinity with Marxism.
Pope Benedict called liberation theology “a singular heresy” in 1984, according to The New York Times. Scherer, by contrast, walked a more moderate line, applauding the movement’s social mission, while criticizing its Marxist leanings.
Five Brazilians will participate in the vote for the new Pope, according to Brazilian daily A Folha de São Paulo.
Pope Benedict announced on Monday that he will resign due to old age, effective Feb. 28. He is the first Pope to resign from the office since 1415. He visited Brazil in 2007.