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'I'll be coming home': Pell outsider for top job

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Could the new Pope come from outside Europe?

Religion writer Barney Zwartz looks at a few of the top contenders outside of Europe to be considered for the head of the Catholic church.

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The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, agrees the idea of his becoming the next Pope is ''fantastic'', but he means fantastic in the traditional sense of fanciful, not the modern sense of terrific.

As election of the next pope approaches, ''some of the suggestions made will be simply fantastic'', Cardinal Pell said in an interview carried on the Sydney Archdiocese website on Tuesday. ''Some of them will be made to meet local demand for a candidate that they know.

''Will you be staying in Rome or would that be fantastic?'' the archdiocese's head of communications, Katrina Lee, asked. ''Of course I will be coming home,'' he said, laughing.

Long odds for Cardinal George Pell as world weighs Pope's replacement.

Long odds for Cardinal George Pell as world weighs Pope's replacement. Photo: Susan Wright

The Catholic theologian Paul Collins agreed. ''I don't think George Pell has any chance of being elected,'' he said.

Rather, his main role in the convocation of cardinals who elect the Pope will probably be in forming a voting bloc.

''He will be an an important influence in getting a group of cardinals together, probably on the conservative side of the ledger,'' Dr Collins said.

<i>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

A professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University, Neil Ormerod, said Australia ''is just too far away from anything of major significance for the church'' for Cardinal Pell to be a contender.

He said the cardinals would be looking for someone to tackle the big issues for the next two decades in Catholicism, including the ''role of sexuality in human flourishing'', the handling of sex abuse within the church and the church's challenges in the developing world, including the relationship between Christianity and Islam in Africa, the growing Pentecostal presence in Latin America and inter-faith dialogue in Asia.

Soon after the news of Pope Benedict's resignation, Sportingbet Australia had Cardinal Pell as a $41 outsider to be the next pope.

The next Pope would preferably not be as old as Pope Benedict, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, said. ''We are probably looking at someone who is either side of 70.''

In an exchange with school students reported in Fairfax Media regional papers in 2008, Cardinal Pell's answer to the question of how he rated his chances of becoming the next Pope was more direct: ''You would get very good odds. And I wouldn't suggest you invest a penny.''

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