The great hope of Latin America

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Born in September 1949 in Cerro Largo, a city in Brazil’s most southerly state of Rio Grande do Sul, Cardinal Scherer is of German stock. His parents, Edwino and Francisca (née Steffens), trace their families back to Saarland, Germany’s smallest federal state, on the border with France. He is a distant relative of the late Cardinal Alfredo Scherer, Archbishop of Porto Alegre.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1976. He studied Philosophy at the Queen of Apostles Seminary in Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná in the south of Brazil, then Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná. He took a Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he was awarded a doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1991. He has also studied Higher Education and three languages, German, French and English.

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Like Pope Benedict, Cardinal Scherer has spent much of his career as a professor. He has taught Philosophy and Theology at various universities in Paraná from 1977 to 1993.

He did pastoral work in Toledo from 1985 to 1988, and in Rome when, from 1994 to 2001, he was an official of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

He returned to Brazil as Auxiliary Bishop of São Paulo, from 2002 to 2007. He received his episcopal consecration from Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, who was seen as a contender in the 2005 conclave following the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II. At 78, Cardinal Hummes is probably too old to be considered in the coming conclave.

The then Bishop Scherer became secretary-general of the Brazilian episcopal conference in 2003. In March 2007 Pope Benedict appointed him the seventh Archbishop of São Paulo, succeeding Cardinal Hummes, who became prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy. Shortly after that, in May 2007, he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Brazil, accompanying him on much of his visit there.

He was made a cardinal in November 2007 and in 2008 Pope Benedict appointed him a member of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Cardinal Scherer is archbishop of not just the largest city in Brazil but the largest city in both the Americas and the southern hemisphere, with a population of some 11 million. His archdiocese has an estimated six million members.

He has spoken out throughout his career on the need for evangelisation. In an article in 2010 he said there was an “evangelisation deficit” in the world. It came as no surprise when Pope Benedict appointed him as one of 20 members of the newly formed Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation in January 2011.

Several Latin American cardinals are being suggested as possibilities for the papacy. The feeling of their supporters is strong. More than 40 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America; only 25 per cent live in Europe, yet every pope in recent history has been European. Of the voting cardinals in this conclave, 19 are from Latin America, but more than 60 are from Europe.

When Pope Benedict announced his abdication Fr Juan Angel Lopez, spokesman for the Catholic Church of Honduras, put the argument simply: “It’s time for there to be a Latin American pope, because Latin America has the greatest number of Christians.” Brazil itself has the largest population of Catholics of any country: more than 150 million, nearly three times as many as in Italy. Pope Benedict has called Latin America “the continent of hope”. But over the last century the percentage of the population identifying as Catholic has dropped from 90 per cent in 1910 to 72 per cent in 2010, according to the Pew Research Centre. In Brazil the fall-off has been even more dramatic, from 84 per cent in 1995 to 68 per cent in 2010. Tens of millions in Latin America, especially the young, have left the Church, with many going to the rapidly growing Pentecostal churches. Some argue that the next pope should not only be from the region, but should be young and energetic enough not just to stem the flow but to win back those who are leaving.

When asked earlier this month if he thought this was the time for a Latin American pope, Cardinal Scherer said that neither geographic origin nor age should matter much when deciding on the next pontiff. He said: “The reflections that will be made at the conclave will not be about whether the pope comes from one place or another place, whether he has this origin or that origin, but whether he has the condition, is the most prepared to lead the Church in this moment of its history.”

When asked if he considered himself in the running Cardinal Scherer did not rule himself out, but said: “It would be very pretentious for a cardinal to say: ‘I am prepared.’ No one is going to say: ‘I am a candidate.’”

Cardinal Scherer is considered to be theologically moderate, though in his own country he is seen as fairly conservative. He has been critical of the popular priest and singer Fr Marcelo Rossi, who is at the forefront of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in his own archdiocese, for his flamboyant style in his televised Masses, saying: “Priests aren’t showmen. The Mass is not to be transformed into a show.”

One issue affecting all Latin American clergy is their attitude towards Liberation Theology, the Marxist-influenced grass-roots movement for social change. Pope Benedict, as Joseph Ratzinger, called Liberation Theology “a singular heresy” in 1984. Politically, Cardinal Scherer appears more centrist, showing support for the movement’s focus on social injustice and poverty, while criticising its use of “Marxism as a tool of analysis”.

Cardinal Scherer is perhaps the most prominent Latin American candidate, but according to some critics he does not show the strong leadership qualities and charisma needed for being pope. An un-named priest who worked with him in São Paulo told the Irish Times: “He is a workaholic and very capable. But he is a civil servant, more of a middle manager than a leader.”

Last June Cardinal Scherer was the Holy See’s representative at the Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. He said that work towards such development must be centred on “the dignity of every human being”. People are “charged with stewardship over nature,” he said, and “this stewardship necessarily possesses an ethical dimension”.

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