Why We Wait for a Non-European Pope

Religion & Politics

By Tiffany Stanley | February 27, 2013

As Pope Benedict steps down this week, speculation stirs that the next pontiff could be a man of color or from outside Europe. And while many qualifications trump nationality when it comes picking the leader of 1.1 billion Catholics, an end to the European dominance of the Holy See is still an enticing suggestion. On his Sirius XM radio show last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan mused that it was “highly possible” there might be a pope from the Americas or Asia or Africa. The former cardinal of Washington told the National Catholic Reporter that he thought the church was ready for a pope outside the West. The Pew Research Center found that most American Catholics (60 percent) think it would be good for the next pope to come from the developing world, hailing from South America, Africa, or Asia.

For some, a pope from the Global South would offer a new perspective, energizing a church faced with the challenges of the modern world. The move could signal an overcoming of past injustice, a herald that all parts of the church hold equal weight within the body. “I think it would send the message to the global church that they recognize the present and future of the church, and that they want to give voice and authority to what’s increasingly becoming the majority,” says Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, a professor of religion at the University of Miami who specializes in theologies of the Americas. “It says you are really a part of the authentic church, not just the colonized church.”

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