By Fraser Nelson
The Pope's surprise resignation will put the world's attention on Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze. Not so long ago, the candidates would all be Italians. Now, the odds on a Pope from the developing nations are quite srtong.
There is an old saying in the Vatican: young cardinals vote for old popes. This bodes will for the 80-year-old Cardinal Arinze, an Igbo Nigerian who spent 25 years in the Vatican. He was, once, the world's youngest bishop. He is quite conservative, as the last two Popes were, and was regarded as a candidate in the 2005 conclave. The liberal Cardinals will like the idea of a Pope from the developing world.
The new rules mean a new Pope needs the votes of two-thirds of the Cardinals, so one faction cannot impose its will over another. Since no one expected Benedict's resignation, it could well be that the Cardinals are not ready to come up with a long-term solution. Older popes are, historically, a form of compromise. Arinze himself can't vote, having turned 80. There are only ten African electors left.
However, it should be noted that Arinze retired a few years ago, hardly demonstrating an appetite for the far-greater demands of the papacy.
If a younger Pope is called for, there is another African option in the form of the younger Peter Turkson, a Ghanian. There are hints that he is Benedict's favourite candidate: not so long ago, the Pope said that having a African pontiff (for the first time in 1500 year) would "send a splendid signal to the world" about the universality of the church.
But is this what Benedict wants? He has appointed surprisingly few Africans to the electoral college.
In general, today's nominations reinforce the dominance of the West in the College of Cardinals. Only three of the 18 new electors come from the developing world — one Brazilian, one Indian, and one from China (Hong Kong). In that sense, the College of Cardinals will continue to be unrepresentative of Catholic demography, given that two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today live in the global south, a share projected to rise to three-quarters by mid-century.
Here are probable candidates to replace the Pope: