It’s got to be an African, hasn’t it? That’s what editors, including my esteemed boss, are saying across the country in response to Pope Benedict’s shock resignation. And Fraser’s right: a black conservative figure would make sense. It would perfectly represent the face of Catholicism in a globalised world.

But there are good reasons to think that, far from being someone from the evangelically charged developing nations, the next Pontiff might be an American. Under Benedict, the power of America in the Holy See has increased dramatically. Vatican insiders even talk about the ‘American moment’ in Rome. Or as John Allen, the world’s best Vatican correspondent put it recently, ‘even if the Vatican remains an Italian village, these days it feels increasingly like one nestled on the Upper East Side of New York’.

One of Benedict’s first major appointments was to install an American, Cardinal William Levada, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He resigned last year, to be replaced by a German, but US influence in the Vatican continued to grow. Cardinal Raymond Burke, from Wisconsin, heads the Vatican’s highest court. And Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, a New York native, was recently given the key position of vice president of the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei Commission. Moreover, an ex-Fox news presenter, Greg Burke, is now the Church’s head of communications.

With Americans in key curial positions, the red-hatted US contingent will have a strong influence over the next Conclave. The suddenness of Pope Benedict’s announcement does not give the cardinals from the developing world much time to form a consensus around an emerging star. Whereas the Americans, in Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and a close ally of the Pope Benedict, have a widely respected and popular figure who could comfortably win enough votes. A New York Pope might not be the global story people are hoping for. Nonetheless, it would be quite something.

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholicism