Benedict XVI was elected in April 2005 at the age of 78. This was six years ago and he is now 84 and seemingly in good health, though he has had some health incidents since he came to the Throne of St Peter. But when he does fall ill and leave us, who will be the next Pope and will the next Pope be the last?
The front runner is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo, having previously served as Archbishop of Vercelli from 1991 to 1995, as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the direction of the current Pope. Born in 1934, he is getting on in years, but is a lively and engaging personality and widely respected in the Church. He is favoured by Benedict as his successor, as a number of small indications seem to suggest.
He is not the only Italian in the running. The Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, (68) is also seen as a strong candidate. President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), and was elevated to the cardinalate in 2007. He is considered to be conservative in his views, and a theological ally of his predecessor in the CEI, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who was seen as a major candidate when Benedict was elected.
During the last conclave some liberal media seemed to suggest that an African cardinal may stand a strong change, since it is in Africa that the Church is growing quickly. Cardinal John Njue (67) of Kenya is the only Africa currently rated with an outside chance of winning the election by the College of Cardinals. He is the fourth and current Archbishop of Nairobi, having previously served as Coadjutor Archbishop of Nyeri (2002–2007) and Bishop of Embu (1986–2002). He was elevated to the cardinalate in 2007.
Another African cardinal, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (73) is also in the running. Although some bookmakers have made Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze the favourite to succeed Pope Benedict – and thus become the first African pope since the death of Pope Gelasius in 496 – Arinze is now 77 and retired and he may well be too old by the time of any vacancy at the Vatican, Turkson is very active and a constant companion for Benedict – he travelled to the UK on the Pope’s visit in 2010.
There are other, younger members of the College of Cardinals who are seen as pababili – electable Cardinals (though in theory, any Catholic can be elected by the College of Cardinals to the office of the papacy). These include: Oscar Maradiaga, 69, Honduras; Odilo Scherer, 62, German ethnicity, but now Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil; Philippe Barbarin, 61, Moroccan-Born and currently Archbishop of Lyon in France; Jorge Urosa, 69, Venezuela; Lluis Sistach, 74, Spain; Raul Chiriboga, 77, Ecuador; Stanislaw Dziwisz, 72, Poland and Jose Policarpo, 75, Portugal.
It is unlikely that a Cardinal from Latin America would be elected for three reasons. First, they are distant from the day to day politics of the Vatican. Second, voting would likely be split between them – there are four candidates from the Americas and it is rare that they are aligned on issues or could align around a single candidate. Third, it is more probable that, as has been the tradition for some time, the next Pope like all of the last century, will be a European.
There is some talk of the next Pope being the “last Pope”. In 1139 St. Malachy set out from Ireland on a harrowing pilgrimage to Rome. On sighting the Eternal City he fell to the ground and began murmuring cryptic Latin phrases, each signifying the future destiny of the popes. For four hundred years the manuscript capturing his comments was locked in the labyrinth of the Vatican. On its rediscovery in 1595 it was rejected by the Church authorities as fraudulent but the content of the prophecies remains remarkably and chillingly accurate: to this day 90 percent have come true. St. Malachy prophesied an end to the Roman Catholic Church and predicted the fates of the popes until Judgment Day. According to this prophecy, only one pope remains after Benedict on the doomsday list. We will see.
Meanwhile, you can place your bets at www.paddypower.com. This online betting site has Cardinal Arinze (Nigeria) as the favourite (7/4) and Cardinal Scola of Venice (6/1) and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras (8/1) closely followed by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (11/1) as the front runners. Cardinal Bertone, who I see as leading the pack, is sitting at 14/1. For those looking for a wild bet, Bono is 1000/1 as is the former co-star of comedy TV series, Father Ted, Father Dougal McGuire (played by Ardal O’Hanlon).