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'Papabili' punditry peaks on conclave eve

Scola, Scherer, Dolan, O'Malley, Tagle in the frame

'Papabili' punditry peaks on conclave eve

(by Denis Greenan). Rome, March 11 - The Catholic Church will elect a new leader for its 1.2 billion members, after the shock abdication of Benedict XVI, later this week. Many Vatican watchers think the odds favour a conservative continuity candidate, since all the cardinals were appointed by Benedict or his predecessor John Paul II, both doctrinal stalwarts and, in their differing ways - the shy and sometimes awkward German, the charismatic, globe-trotting Pole - staunch traditionalists. But others say the scandal-hit Church needs a change, possibly a youthful injection of outsider energy to curb reported infighting and intrigue at the Curia, the Church's currently divided and reportedly dysfunctional nerve centre. A younger, feistier pope might also bring back disenchanted Europeans to the fold after waves of sex scandals and fight off the surge of more charismatic Churches like Evangelicalism in Africa and Asia, and Pentecostalism in South America. Some observers have said the time is ripe for the advent of a black pope. With the taboo on having a pope from a superpower now defunct, US cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean Patrick O'Malley have come to the fore in recent betting, both seen as offering enough of the old and the new. An online poll, on the other hand, saw charismatic young media-savvy Filipino Luis Tagle emerge on top, as young Catholics voted for a blast of fresh air. But the race has narrowed to two other runners, Italian media say: Italy's Angelo Scola and Brazil's Odilo Scherer . Scola is seen as a safe pair of hands with the right dose of theological and administrative nous, personal charisma, ability to appeal to the masses and capacity to achieve reform without trauma. He is said to have more support outside the Curia. Scherer, on the other hand, is said to have strong Curial backing. He is also viewed as a bridge between doctrinal tradition and modernization.

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