Having never covered a papal conclave before, being a somewhat lapsed Catholic and pretty much a full-time business and economics writer, I feel perfectly qualified to call the next pope: Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Brazil.
Picking Cardinal Scherer is hardly like betting that Lance Armstrong or Tony Blair will be canonized. The bookmakers currently rank Cardinal Scherer second, with 4-to-1 odds, putting him behind Italy’s Angelo Scola and ahead of Ghana’s Peter Turkson and Marc Ouellet of Canada.
The 115 elector cardinals begin voting this afternoon and the Church will almost certainly anoint a new pope by Friday. Modern conclaves have ranged from two to four days.
My big caveat is that conclaves are black boxes. Anything could happen, as it did in 1978, when an obscure Polish cardinal came out of nowhere to become Pope John Paul II Why Cardinal Scherer? Here are six reasons:
1) He is not European: In the 2013 edition of the conclave, holding a non-European passport seems an asset. Handing the big job to a cardinal in a region where the church is strong, or at least not dying, as it is in Europe and much of North America, would be recognition that the Vatican’s 60 European cardinals can’t and shouldn’t run the show forever. Brazil also happens to be the country with the greatest number of Catholics.
2) He is the right age: At 63, he should have enough horsepower to handle a demanding job, but not too young that he could remain pope for the next quarter century. The Vatican may think in centuries, but even it likes to freshen up the talent now and again.
3) He is no shrinking violet: Of German descent and born poor, he is considered a toughie who won’t shy away from making the hard decisions.
4) His CV looks good: He has both pastoral and Vatican experience and has received kudos for restoring some order to the vast and chaotic Sao Paolo diocese. The cardinals want a holy man as the next pope, but it appears they might also appreciate a man with some hands-on experience in running bits of the scandal-prone Vatican. If so, Cardinal Scherer fits the bill. He is a member of the Vatican Bank’s supervisory council and a member of the 15-man team that oversees the Vatican’s finances. He is also a member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs.
5) He’s high on the conclave buzz meter: His name pops up everywhere, in the social networks, in the Italian press, off the lips of the Vatican chattering classes. The “Vatican Insider” section of Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, which is pretty much setting the news agenda for the conclave, perennially ranks him near the front of the horse race.
6) There is no obvious front-runner: In the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was the favourite going in. This conclave is different. The buzz meter and the bookmakers list no fewer than five strong candidates and perhaps a similar number of dark horses. Cardinal Scherer could emerge from the pack (or get trampled by it).