by Stephen Prothero
The United States just finished a diversity election that saw a president elected not by old, white men but by Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
Now that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his retirement, the Roman Catholic Church is preparing for an election of its own. Though in this case, the election will be decided not by rank-and-file Catholics but by the College of Cardinals.
It is well known that the demographics of the Catholic Church are changing quickly. Membership is hemorrhaging in Europe and barely stable in the United States, but it is booming in Asia and Africa and Latin America, which together account for two-thirds of the world's Catholics.
In recent years, the papacy has seen some demographic milestones, as the College of Cardinals moved beyond Italy to tap popes from Poland (John Paul II) and Germany (Benedict XVI). There is now some speculation that an American might be considered, namely Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
But the church could take a much bolder step, tapping a pontiff that represents its future in the "Global South" rather than its past in the "Global North."
If you crunch the numbers, it's astonishing that we have not yet had a Latin American pope. Today roughly 41% of all Catholics hail from Latin America. And half of all Catholics under age 40 are from Latin America.
In this key region (which accounts for 16% of cardinal electors), possible papal candidates include Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Buenos Aires), who may have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave. But he is 75, and given Benedict's abrupt retirement for (among other things) health reasons, the College of Cardinals might well want to find someone younger.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (age 69), an Italian-Argentinian spearheading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches, is more likely. He has also been the Vatican's chief of staff.
Another Latin American possibility is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maridiaga (age 70) of Honduras, a rising star in the region who is known as a powerful speaker with a strong commitment to social justice.
SOURCE: CNN | Belief Blog
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.