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Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze: the next Pope?

11 February 2013

The first papal resignation since 1415 will throw the world’s attention on Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, who is the bookies’ favourite to succeed Benedict XVI. Not so long ago, the candidates would all be Italians. Now, the odds on a pope from the third world are quite high. Europe now stands out as a secularist anomaly in a world where religion is strong and growing stronger, as we argue in this week’s Spectator.

There is an saying in the Vatican: young cardinals vote for old popes. This bodes will for the 80-year-old Cardinal Arinze, an Igbo Nigerian who spent 25 years in the Vatican. He was, once, the world’s youngest bishop. He is quite conservative, as the last two Popes were, and was seen as a runner last time. The liberal Cardinals will like the idea of a Pope from the developing world. The new rules mean a new Pope needs the votes of two-thirds of the Cardinals, so one faction cannot impose its will over another. Since no one expected Benedict’s resignation, it could well be that the Cardinals are not ready to come up with a long-term solution. Older popes are, historically, a form of compromise. Arinze himself can’t vote, having turned 80. There are only ten African electors left.

Coral and William Hill both have Arinze as favourite. A Hill spokesman said:-

“When we opened betting last time around, in 2005, Francis Arinze was our favourite. His odds did drift towards the date of the announcement when Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) became the favourite, but he remained in the top three. Also, when Ratzinger became pope, Arinze took over from him as cardinal bishop of Velletri-Segni (a Catholic diocese close to Rome) —— it could be that he’ll follow in his footsteps again.”

The bookies may well have it wrong: odds simply reflect the weight of money, and the market may not be very liquid. Most bets were placed before anyone thought a race was really likely. We are in uncharted territory – will the pope’s presence influence his successor? What will his role be? Indeed, what do we call him: Pontiff Emeritus? Ex-Benedict? And while Arinze was a runner in 2005 he retired a few years ago, hardly demonstrating an appetite for the far-greater demands of the papacy.

If a younger pope is called for there is another African option in the form of the young (by papal standards) Peter Turkson, a Ghanian. There are hints that he is Benedict’s favourite candidate: not so long ago the pope said that having a African pontiff (for the first time in 1500 years) would “send a splendid signal to the world” about the universality of the church.


But is this what Benedict wants? He has appointed surprisingly few Africans to the electoral college, as John L Allen pointed out last year. Allen had this to say:

In general, today’s nominations reinforce the dominance of the West in the College of Cardinals. Only three of the 18 new electors come from the developing world — one Brazilian, one Indian, and one from China (Hong Kong). In that sense, the College of Cardinals will continue to be unrepresentative of Catholic demography, given that two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today live in the global south, a share projected to rise to three-quarters by mid-century.

Coral’s odds will probably change quickly, as money is placed. But right now, they are as follows:

Cardinal Francis Arinze 7/4 of Nigeria. Age 80.

Cardinal Peter Turkson 2/1 of Ghana, Age 64. Appointed by Benedict four years ago to become president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet 5/1 of Canada, Age 68

Archbishop Angelo Scola 8/1, an Italian philosopher. Aged 71.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga 10/1. A Honduran who was President of the Latin American Episcopal Conference. Age 70

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone 12/1, an Italian prelate. Aged 78

PS I should add that betting is a mug’s game. It all depends on the preferences of a tiny group of pension-age cardinals, who tend not to tell anyone what they’re thinking. But if anyone would know what they’re thinking, it’s Benedict. He may well have decided to stand down now (rather than die in office, as popes have done for the last few centuries) because he thinks the stars are aligning for his favoured candidate.

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  • Robert Robertson Jenkins Sr.

    It is time for an African Pope ” end of story (:) .>>>>>>>

  • guest

    Arinze is a good choice. Also Turkson. As Turkson first name is Peter the Mallacy and Nostradamus prophecies will be fulfilled that the last pope be named Peter and will be black?
    They tend not to elect Americans as Pope because America is a super power but the likes of Edwin O’Brien, the cardinal of Baltimore and Daniel DiNardio, the cardinal of Galveston, Texas look good. They are better, sober and quieter than Timothy Dolan and would achieve more

  • wcm_eu

    I have just watched an in-depth report on German television looking at questions about Benedict XVI’s likely exposure in investigations relating to the Vatican banks (Gotti affair and others; nearly missed it as it was on in the background).

    While I have long had profound disappointment and often enoug, worse, with recent generations of Vatican “management”, the thought of a Nigerian becoming pope remains unthinkable. The Church is in great need of solid intellectuals who understand its history, literature and centuries of intellectualism.

    A populist African would be nothing less than a play to the lowest common denominator, which has been an objective too many in the Church has been engaged in since Vatican II.

    At best, the Roman Catholic Church under an African pope will be an expansion on a concept of a 21st Century parish in Kentish Town, guitars, soul and all. The parish I’m thinking off hasn’t recovered from an LRB article byColm Tóibín revealing it had been a “safe parish” for deposed Irish priests in the 1990s.

    The West will lose an institution that manyof us at many times have hated. It will still be a loss if it turns to an African populist.

    Follow the money. It will tell more than white smoke.

  • paulus

    Well according to St Malachy the next pontiff will be called Petrus romanus, well I have just been on to ladbrokes and they are offering 7/1 on a nigerian, seems logical. But i dont think they can keep their own name.

    One must assume if St Malachy is providing us with inside information from medieval divination that the roman bit indicates an Italian, their is a piero at 100/1, who fits the bill.We need to start talking up the sanctity of this holy man, it appears at 100/1, we have absolute faith in him to deliver the petrine throne for all conservatives.

  • Och

    Congratulation Father Francis Arinze, this is the day which the Lord has appointed to put things right. You are called for a reason and for a propose; the Lord has appointed you as the Chosen one from Igbo for a reason, to use you as an instrument of peace, to clean the tears of the dead and poor once out there , crying and praying for this day to come. Wish you all the best during the period of your message as a Pope to the world. Congratulation ……..

  • Simon Morgan

    What will be the legacy of this Pope? In some ways, you have to admire Catholics because they refuse to water down their faith according to the fashion of the day. In other ways, it’s such a shame the Catholic religion clings to it’s absurd views on abortion and gay marriage, etc. In the end it’s all a load of complete and utter b*llocks anyway, so personally, I couldn’t give a stuff.

    • Matthew Layton

      The Catholic Church’s articulately communicated, well reasoned,
      and (dare I say) nearly completely nonreligious views on abortion are “absurd”?
      ROFL! What is absurd is the fact that so many individuals these days view the
      intentional killing of a living human person as some sort of supposed “right”
      rather than what it is in all reality.

    • LEngland

      So, why waste our time ?

  • Shaun

    The rules used to require a two-thirds majority. John Paul II changed them to require only a majority after 33/34 ballots. Benedict changed the rules back to requiring a two-thirds majority, which is how things had been since the Lateran Council.

  • MissTrixieB

    Cardinal Arinze is an awesome man and I believe would be a wonderful pope. However, being elected at age 80 would make him more of a caretaker pope. But then, many thought Benedict would be a caretaker too.

  • bill

    bodes *well

  • Curnonsky

    High time they decide to de-toxify the Catholic brand by elevating a black female Muslim. She’ll look especially papal in her white and gold burka.

  • peagama

    Lol. In your dreams

  • andy_gill

    An African Pope might help stem the tide of Islamism in Africa. Sounds like a good idea.

    • don logan

      And might be less inclined to protect the paedos too.

  • Curry Cub

    Why do I get the feeling that this guy is even more conservative than Benedict? (as hard as that may be to believe)

  • Mark Bailey

    Unlikely, Fraser, at eighty he is over the age limit to be a Cardinal-Elector and therefore won’t be involved in the conclave.

    One of Ouellet o Scola would do fine fo me.

    • Raimo Kangasniemi

      Scola, son of a truck driver, would do well.

      Catholic Church has an unprecedented run of three non-aristocratic popes going on, hopefully it will continue. Between 1523 and 1978 all popes but Pius X(1903-14) were aristocrats. That did a “good job” in distancing the Catholic Church from the realities of the world.

  • Stephen Percival

    Boko Haram will react if they give it to Arinze. Wise?

    • telemachus

      Which will really get the Islamophobes at it

    • fantasy_island

      Boko Haram, didn’t they record a whiter shade of pale?

    • chan chan

      Who cares what retarded muslims think?

    • victor

      please Stephen Percival,i,m a christian and also Nigerian, does’nt mean everybody in Nigeria is bad,if you say so then Americans or wherever you come from, are armed robbers,drug traffikkers and nudist,please contribute to the discussion you little boy.i believe you are just an illiterate.

  • 2trueblue

    It was always considered that he was a ‘Caretaker’ and he has done a good job. South America or Africa will be interesting to watch for likely candidates. It was a very close call last time.

    • paul patrick

      We need Cardinal Francis Arinze as our next pope..

  • henry

    A Nigerian the next Pope? Transformation Agenda on full course.

    • telemachus

      The South American Maradiaga will get it
      We need to lock in the Latins and he understands the poor and hungry of the world as evidenced by his sermons
      “Christ, ‘the living bread that has come down from Heaven’, is the only one who can alleviate the hunger of the human person at all times and in all places of the earth. He cannot do it alone, however, and for that reason, as in the multiplication of the bread, He involves the disciples: “He then took the five loaves and two fish and, raising His eyes to heaven, pronounced a blessing over them; He broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd”.
      Those who are worthily participate at the table become agents in the quest to solve the degradation that is all around us”

    • fantasy_island

      Indeed, it will depend how progressive they wish to appear.

      • LEngland

        Or, in which direction they wish to progress.

    • Raimo Kangasniemi

      Another way of looking it would be that the cardinals would prefer the Catholic Church to continue on its current path for a few years more if they would elect a 80 year old conservative cardinal as a pope.

      The reasons the current pope gave for resigning probably will work against the older candidates; the cardinals probably want a younger and more energetic man but not too young, as the new pope will probably be a compromise candidate, and in those circumstances its unlikely that any faction will be guaranteed perhaps twenty years or more with its man at the helm.

      I’ll expect that they will elect a 70-75 years old moderate conservative, with 50/50 chances that he will be an Italian,

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