Portuguese cardinal is papal dark horse

As hopes that the next pope will come from Africa were increasingly dismissed as unlikely last week, and Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze was criticised as not being a strong enough contender, a dark-horse candidate, capable of bridging the divide between the Europeans and the Latin American Roman Catholic cardinals, appeared to be emerging in the shape of the Patriarch of Portugal, Jose da Cruz Policarpo.

As the cardinals prepare to start voting to elect a pope this week, the 115 men will pause in their devotions to canvass each others’ opinions on the next pontiff.

Last Saturday they decided to give no more formal interviews to the media, but that will not preclude their own lobbying and discussions. Alongside Policarpo, Claudio Hummes, of Brazil, is emerging as a potential favourite.

With the debate expected to focus on whether the pope should be European or whether the cardinals should open the papacy to a candidate from the Church’s Latin American congregations, the men are regarded as bridges between the continents.

Both speak the languages of Latin America but have European roots: Policarpo’s career has been spent as a theologian in Portugal; Hummes’s parents were German. Both men, while orthodox, have been concerned with human rights and world poverty.

Whoever is elected pope will need the support of the bulk of cardinals from both regions to secure the required two-thirds majority of 77: Europe has 58 cardinals, and central and southern America only 20. By comparison, North America has 14 cardinals, Africa 11, Asia 10, and Australasia and the Pacific two each.

Even so, the South Americans are severely under-represented: the church in Latin America has 500-million followers, but only 18% of those electing the pope come from the region.

While Hummes (70), who is cardinal archbishop of São Paulo features on most lists of the papabile (worthy to be pope), Policarpo (69) has been much less touted and is something of a dark horse — but judged by some to be the best to tackle the problem of re-engaging Europe’s Catholics with the mother church.

“He’s a formidable thinker, an intellectual, very good on the questions affecting European culture, which are going to absorb the cardinals,” said one Vatican observer. “He could also be the first cigarette-smoking pope.”

Policarpo, ordained in 1961 and a bishop since 1978, was not made a cardinal until 2001. He has spent most of his career at the Portuguese Catholic University and spoken out against human rights abuses in East Timor and Mozambique.

Hummes, a Franciscan, is seen as doctrinally and morally strict but has been an advocate for the poor and dispossessed. — Â



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