Some wag has gone around Rome putting up spoof ‘Vota Turkson’ posters. This is a reference to the Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has been much-tipped to be the first black Pope. Turkson has a lot of support, it seems, and not all of it sardonic. Many Catholics say now is the time for an African Pope. And there’s a sense that it might take someone from the developing world to knock the Roman Curia — widely thought to be an arcane and corrupt body – into shape.
But as I’ve written in this week’s magazine, a number of Vatican insiders think that, far from being an outsider, the next Pope must be an Italian. Only an Italian, it’s said, can understand and fix the complex problems within the Curia. The name I heard most often last week was Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Ravasi is said to have the right mix of intelligence, media appeal and personal holiness to be Pope. But there are strong arguments against him, too. He lacks administrative experience, his deputy at the Pontifical Council for Culture has just been accused of sex abuse), and there are questions over his language skills.
A safer bet would be that the next Pope will be called Angelo – either Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan or Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Scola is a theologian of immense ability and standing in the Church; while Bagnasco, the son of a baker, is a devoutly orthodox, genial fellow who’s also an adept politician.
Let’s not get too bogged down with the runners and riders ahead of the conclave. There are just too many imponderables. Still, it’s worth remembering that the Catholic Church remains in many ways a Roman institution, that Italians make up the largest voting bloc within the College of Cardinals (in fact their number has increased since the last conclave), and that, as one English priest has put it to me, ‘if they get a whiff that an Italian is in the lead, they’ll all back him to the hilt’.