The prospect of a black pope has long captured the imagination of Vatican watchers and the international media. Arinze grew up a member of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria, and converted to Catholicism at age 9. He spent the last 20 years working in the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, first as the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and now as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Arinze is a charming figure, with a broad smile and an acute sense of humor. He is seen as deeply spiritual, sincere, honest, and a man capable of listening to others despite his own strong views. His theological positions range from moderate to conservative, and, in the blunt speech that Africans prize, he pulls few punches. Arinze engineered the beatification of Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, a Nigerian Cistercian monk who died in 1964 and in 1998 became the first West African candidate for sainthood to reach the penultimate step. It was Tansi who baptized Arinze and encouraged him to become a priest.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentina, 68) (d.o.b. 12/17/36)
A Jesuit and the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio is seen as a genuine intellectual. He pursued theological studies in Germany, has published three books, and serves as grand chancellor of the Catholic University in Argentina. He was a controversial local superior of the Jesuit order in the 1970s, insisting on more traditional spiritual devotions at a time when the Latin American Jesuits were moving strongly into social activism. He won wide respect during the Argentinean financial crisis in 2001-2002. Observers report that he did not speak out often in favor of good government, reform and unity, but when he did speak, he was widely influential. Bergoglio also drew high marks when he replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York during a 2001 Synod of Bishops as the pope's appointee to steer the process. If he were to be elected, Bergoglio's simplicity and humility could become a hallmark of his papacy. In Argentina, for example, he rides public transportation rather than a chauffer-driven car.
Godfried Danneels (Belgium, 71) (d.o.b. 6/4/33)
A former professor of liturgy at the Catholic University of Louvain, Danneels has a high reputation as both an intellectual and a pastor. Though he has a strong personal vision, he also has a reputation as someone who listens well and builds consensus. He speaks several languages, including Italian and English. At a 1999 Synod of Bishops, he turned a pessimistic tide that had dominated the early going by insisting there is much of value in contemporary Western culture. He said the Western mind chafes at authoritarianism, but still responds to beauty. One could expect reform from a Danneels papacy. He is open to appointing women, for example, to run curial agencies. "Why not?" he said in a 1999 interview. "In the congregation for laity, for example, it would only make sense." Yet Danneels is no doctrinal radical. In early 2000, he did not hesitate to suspend the Rev. Rudi Borremans, a Belgian priest who announced he was homosexual and then concelebrated a Mass in violation of Danneels' orders.
Ivan Dias (India, 68) (d.o.b. 4/14/36)
The archbishop of Mumbai (Bombay), Dias rose up through the Vatican diplomatic corps. He is thus a cosmopolitan, speaking at least a little of 16 languages, and he knows global politics as few cardinals do. He is also a rare theological conservative among the Indian bishops, known for a more moderate stance. At an October 2000 press conference sponsored by the conservative religious order Legionaries of Christ, Dias dismissed the theology of religious pluralism associated with India, which regards other religions as part of God's plan for humanity, as largely a concoction of avant garde theologians rather than something accepted by average Mass-going Indian Catholics. Dias is also outspoken on moral questions. In a November 2003 Vatican address, he referred to homosexuality as a disease of the soul, and said he prayed for such people to be "cured of their unnatural tendencies." Dias thus blends fidelity to the church's doctrinal tradition with the appeal of coming from an Asian culture.
Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa (Chile, 71) (d.o.b 9/5/33)
Errazuriz Ossa has a keen mind, having obtained a degree in mathematics at the Catholic University in Chile in the 1950s and then a doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in the early 1960s. He is a member of the German-born order of the Schonstatt Fathers. In 1974 he was elected the superior general of Schonstatt, and was re-elected in 1980 and 1986. He traveled widely around the world, gaining a sense of the reality of local Catholic life in a wide variety of contexts. He worked in the Vatican, in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from 1990-1996. He blends strong pastoral experience with an insider's knowledge of the Roman Curia. Errazuriz Ossa is seen as a cautious conservative on most church issues. On May 16, 2003, he was elected president of the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM) for the 2003-2007 term, suggesting he enjoys respect among a rather divided group of Latin American bishops.