Italy has the largest group of cardinal electors with 28, and believes it has a historic right to supply the pope, as it did for centuries. Italians feel it’s time to have one of their own enthroned again after 35 years of “foreigners,” with the Polish John Paul II and the German Benedict.
But Italians are divided by which Italian church groups they have been affiliated with, and which leaders they follow. A dispute that pitted the followers of the archbishops of Genoa and Florence is said to have cost them the papacy in 1978 after 455 years of Italian popes.
Andrea Riccardi, a founder of the Sant Egidio community and minister of cooperation in the Italian government, says Italian cardinals should get the first look.
“The pope is bishop of Rome,” Riccardi said. “Only if the selection of an Italian becomes impractical should it be the case to look in another direction.”
From one point of view, the Italians have already suffered a setback. The selection of Tuesday for the conclave to begin is considered a victory for the “foreigners” who had sought more time to get to know get to know one another amid pressures to begin voting as early as Sunday.
And the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which polled experts on Saturday, found Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley topped their list of papal favorites — ahead of both Scherer and Scola.
Two other Americans — Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington — also emerged as potential popes in the survey. That was a surprise since Americans had largely been written off because of potential negative perceptions of electing a superpower pope. Vatican watchers have also noted that an American pope would likely have difficulty dealing with anti-Christian violence and persecution in the Islamic world.