Everybody is talking about Brazil's Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer

Brian Bethune’s latest from Rome

In all the Third World pope buzz that has swirled since Pope Benedict announced his resignation a month ago, most has focussed on African or Asian papabili. Strangely little, given how South America is the most Catholic of continents, has been said about Latin America (Mexico and Central America add another 100 million to the total.) Until very recently. Suddenly, everyone is talking about Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, the largest archdiocese in the world’s largest Catholic. Viewing his record and his lack of charismatic presence–the same knock that may prove decisive in the case of Canada’ Cardinal Marc Oullett–points to only two favourable points: the age (63) is good, and he apparently gets along splendidly with the cardinals of the Curia, the papal bureaucrats whose incompetence and worse has made Church governance among the key issues–if not the single most important one–that the cardinals will weigh in their choice for pope. By this theory, the Italians–by which Vatican waters mean the bureaucrats–know they can’t get their wish, an Italian and pro-Curia pontiff, so they’ll settle for what’s important in that combo: the pro-Curia part. (In mirror opposite, the reformers are said to be coalescing around an Italian, Milan’s Cardenal Angelo Scola, to sweeten their bitter change package.) Like every other pathway proposed–and assiduously leaked by interested parties–for any of a half-dozen papal contenders, it’s perfectly logical. Unlike most, moreover, it does actually reflect what is a serious divisive issue within the College of Cardinals. Whether the business-as-usual (with a few tweaks, of course) cardinals or the housecleaners prevail, however, will probably not turn on specific candidates, but on whether those voters–67, more than half–appointed by Benedict think the pope emeritus was hamstrung all along by his bureaucracy or by his own missteps.