By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation shocked the Catholic world this week, and almost immediately speculation started over who would be his successor. Given Brazil is home to the largest population of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, many are asking whether the new Pope could be from Brazil or Latin America.
Five of Brazil’s nine members of the College of Cardinals are eligible to take part in the conclave. Two of them, Archbishop of São Paulo Odilo Scherer and Archbishop of Brasília João Braz de Aviz, have been touted by Brazilian media as being among the favorites for the papacy, and senior Vatican official Archbishop Gerhard Müller told reporters: “I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the Church.”
Yet many analysts say the Vatican is not ready for a non-European pope, putting Archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola atop the list of favorites. Others say there is a chance of a non-European getting the job, particularly with growing Catholic populations in China and Africa.
Paulo Fernando Carneiro de Andrade, professor of theology at PUC-Rio, says the choice is complex and will not necessarily take into account the size of countries’ Catholic populations: “The profile sought has more to do with the [candidate’s] ability to bring together the interests of the Curia and thus guarantee the proper functioning of the Catholic Church,” he told BBC Brasil.
Benedict XVI was meant to open World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro at the end of July. However, the Archbishop of Rio, Orani Tempesta, has confirmed preparations for the event will continue, meaning the first major overseas trip of the new papacy should be to Brazil. He is hopeful Benedict XVI’s stepping down will allow the Church to “rejuvenate” itself.
Estimates from 2010 census suggest that Brazil is almost 65 percent Catholic, and 22 percent Protestant. The statistics indicate the Catholic Church become less prominent in recent years, partly due to a concerted recruitment drive by evangelical churches, but also because opinions, particularly among younger Brazilians, have been increasingly at odds with those expressed by both the Catholic Church.
On Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil in 2007, he called Catholics to stem the mass conversion to Protestantism and of reinvigorating Brazil’s connection to Catholicism.
Regular Opinion writer for The Rio Times Michael Royster says the Catholic Church’s hard line on women, homosexuality and birth control has not rung true with many Brazilians, and the fact that Protestant churches allow women in their ranks and have married clergy has encouraged conversion.
Maria Ruzia Guimarães, a life-long Catholic and religious festival organizer from Natal, tells The Rio Times that although she believes Benedict XVI’s decision to step down was courageous, Brazilians found it difficult to relate to the outgoing pontiff: “He was too traditional and didn’t fit into our new world, for example by embracing gay marriage and science. I hope the new pope will find a way to connect with younger people: being more liberal would help.”
British expatriate in Rio, Jeremy Lovelace, is the Director of Alpha Brasil – a ten week introduction to Christianity designed for non-church goers – and told The Rio Times: “It was sad to learn this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration, but we look forward to continuing our work with the Catholic Church and offer up our prayers for them during this time of transition.”