On the day when three different size white cassocks were
unpacked and placed in the room next to the Sistine Chapel for the next pope,
talk emerged Monday that a cardinal from the United States could end up
wearing one of them.
It's the first time Americans have been considered serious contenders, particularly if voting for the leading candidates becomes deadlocked.
"The idea of an American pope was essentially taboo until now," said John Thavis, the longtime Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service and author of "Vatican Diaries."
Officially none of the cardinals is talking, so names of U.S. contenders come from Vaticanisti, journalists who regularly cover the Vatican and lay claim to inside sources.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 63, of New York, a gregarious extrovert whose homilies are soul-stirring, is reportedly backed by some powerful Italians who long for a return to the style of Pope John Paul II.
Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, 68, a Capuchin who grew up in Whitehall and preaches well in five languages and cleaned up after sex abuse disasters in three dioceses, has media interest, although it's not clear if he has a voting bloc.
John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has proposed that if the cardinals are open to an American, Pittsburgh's longtime bishop and native son, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 72, of Washington, D.C., best fits the criteria that many have indicated they want.
In on-and-off-the-record interviews prior to the pre-conclave media blackout, various cardinals described a tangibly holy evangelist with international appeal and enough of a spine to clean up a bureaucratic nightmare in the Vatican.
According to numerous accounts, Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, of Milan; Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, of Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, a Canadian who was most recently head of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, all have support, but nothing close to the 77 votes required for an election by two-thirds of the 115 voting cardinals.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa estimates that Cardinal Scola, an intellectual known for dialogue with Muslims, has 35 to 40 votes, primarily from Europe and some from the United States. But the Philadelphia-based Vaticanista Rocco Palmo, who is on the speed dial of some cardinals, says Italian cardinals are wary of him because of his ties to Communion and Liberation, an Italian Roman Catholic movement with political overtones. He isn't seen as particularly dynamic but is an architect of the "new evangelization" that Pope Benedict XVI sought to bring to the secularized West.
Cardinal Scherer is also said to suffer from a charisma deficit -- translations of his sermons are bland. He is, according to Italian Vaticanisti, the candidate of the old guard in the Vatican bureaucracy, where he once worked. La Stampa estimates that he has 25 votes. But backing from the old guard could alienate many cardinals who see the Vatican bureaucracy as an inept, pastorally tone-deaf source of scandal.
Cardinal Ouellet, a scripture scholar, is usually named as the third-leading contender, although La Repubblica considers the two early leaders to be Cardinal Scola and Cardinal Dolan.
What Cardinals Scola, Scherer and Ouellet lack in personal magnetism,
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