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. 

Pope Benedict XVI visiting in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Pope Benedict XVI visiting in São Paulo during 2007, photo by Valter Campanato/ABr.

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.

Benedict XVI meets President Lula on his trip to Brazil in 2007, Brazil News
Benedict XVI met President Lula on his 2007 trip to Brazil, where Catholic congregations are falling, photo by Fabio Pozzebom/ABr.

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.”


  1. “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.”
    I have to disagree with this statement… The so called ‘rules’ Catholics must follow, are not determined by the Pope, but by the Bible…. so if the Holy Word say gay marriage is considered a sin, the Pope has no right to change that, and say it’s ok… Do you know what i mean ? A true religious will follow the Lord’s words, not Pope’s…

  2. As I truely believe that the religions of the book can express freely on the subjet of religion, I must answer the precedent commentary with a simple fact .. The bible is NOT the book of the lord because it was written by inspired men and the pope is the spititual leader of the people who believe in the commandments inspired by God but written by Moses. Someday someone should explain to the evangelists that they are dissidents from the catholic faith as they are well accepted by their god. As all know God has as many faces and names as believers in the world, nobody can pretend that a single book could replace the holy Pope.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

two × 2 =