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Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, 68, has worked in South America as well as his native Quebec and is now ensconced in Rome as head of the extremely influential Congregation of Bishops, a post he was given by Benedict in 2010. The Pope also made him president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Like Benedict, Ouellet believes that the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council of 1962--65 were given too liberal a reading by many Catholics. However, he keeps a very low profile and is not particularly magnetic (though Ratzinger proved that the role of Pope does wonders for a charisma deficit). Says Robert Dennis, vice president of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association: "He has strong ties to the Latin American bishops. And I think that might be actually the most crucial factor when we're talking about a pragmatic reason why he might be elected, because they are a significant voting bloc."
The other prominent North American favorite is Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who was elevated to the college in 2012; there is, however, a traditional bias against giving the most powerful job in the church to a citizen of the world's most powerful country.
Many people who believe they have insight into the secretive Vatican say the prohibitive favorite is Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, a theologian and philosopher who was once Patriarch of Venice and was appointed by Benedict to become Archbishop of Milan in 2011. The word from the Holy See is that the large Italian segment of the Vatican bureaucracy--the Curia--would love to see a countryman retake the papacy. Though Scola's job is administering Milan for the church, he also has a few years of Curia experience under his belt. He is, however, associated with the Comunione e Liberazione movement, a conservative lay-Catholic activist group that has supported politicians like former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and has been mired in corruption scandals. Scola has distanced himself from the movement, but the history may return to haunt him come the time of the conclave.
As diverse as these men may be, they all have Curia credentials--which is key for any Pope who must maneuver through the bureaucracy. John Paul II was an outsider. But the ascendancy of Benedict--despite his German origins and badly accented Italian--was a win for the Curia because he had become a denizen of the organization in his Vatican job as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Scola, Turkson and Ouellet may be Italian, Ghanaian and Canadian, but they will not be outsiders. Conclaves are known to act in mysterious ways, and the one that begins in March may well surprise the world by choosing someone who does not resemble one of these three. But the parameters have been set to a large degree by Benedict. They will be hard to supersede.
The Twilight of Ratzinger