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Pope Idol: The top 7 and their stance on gay rights

As the cardinals start to gather for the conclave to elect the next pope, we give a run-down of the top popefuls and find a bleak picture on LGBT issues
Pope Benedict XVI: His shock resignation sparked a papal conclave but his successor is unlikely to be an advocate for LGBT rights.

As the red-robed cardinals gather in their conclave to choose the next pope, it is clear homosexuality will be a key issue facing the future head of the Catholic church.

Pope Benedict XVI’s reign was marked not just by the biggest child sex abuse scandal in the history of the world but also by increasing challenges to the church’s traditional stance on LGBT issues.

Benedict opposed homosexuality and gay marriage, and in January 2013 stated:

‘There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically [sic] equivalent to radically different types of union.

‘Such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.’

He even warned lesbian, gay and bisexual people are a threat to the future of mankind.

Under his rule, the Catholic Church held the view homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered’ though it said gay people should be treated with compassion and dignity. Some would argue that ‘dignity’ was not always offered by those in the Catholic hierarchy like Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien who likened allowing gay marriage to legalizing ‘slavery’ – only to have to resign later for sexual misconduct towards his own male priests.

But the church’s authority view is being challenged by normal Catholics.

Evidence shows there is growing support for gay marriage from parishioners. A 2012 survey of American Catholic respondents found 52% supported gay marriage.

GSN has even heard reports of one UK-based church claiming the next pope will support LGBT rights and this will trigger the end of the world.

In reality, the apocalypse is highly unlikely and a change in Catholic teaching almost as unlikely. Pretty much all the key candidates are fundamentally conservative in their approach to key issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

Here we look at the seven favorite contenders to examine how the popefuls may deal with LGBT people:

Peter Turkson

One of the frontrunners in the race for the papacy, Turkson is a 64-year-old cardinal from Ghana. If elected, he will become the first black pope in history.

Turkson holds extreme views on gay marriage and ‘alternative lifestyles.’ He has caused controversy by equating homosexuality with child abuse.

When asked whether he believed the child abuse scandals that had occurred in Europe could happen in Africa, he stated: ‘African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind, are not countenanced... so that cultural taboo, that tradition, has been there. It has served to keep it out.’

Angelo Scola

Scola is currently the bookmakers’ favorite to become pope and has been referred to by a prominent Catholic newspaper as the ‘crown prince of Catholicism’.

He is currently the archbishop of Milan, Italy. Pius XI and Paul VI also held this role before going on to become pope in the 20th century.

Scola has condemned homosexuality as well as abortion and feminism and would likely take the same stance as Pope Benedict on these issues if elected.

Tarcisio Bertone

Following Pope Benedict’s resignation, Bertone is now acting head of state for the Vatican until a replacement is announced.

In 2010, Bertone outraged gay groups by suggesting the child abuse scandals within the church were directly linked to homosexuality.

He told a news conference in Chile: ‘Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have demonstrated, I was told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.’

Bertone’s claimed link was, of course, entirely false. His comments were largely rejected by Chilean politicians while gay rights group Stonewall UK blasted him for promoting an ‘offensive myth.’

Marc Ouellet

Canadian born Ouellet would become the first North American Pope if he was to be elected.

He speaks six languages and has strong links with Latin America, having lived in Columbia for 11 years.

Ouellet previously testified before the Canadian senate, urging legislators to vote against legalizing gay marriage, describing it as ‘pseudo-marriage, a fiction’.

He caused further controversy by condemning abortions, even in cases of rape, saying: ‘There’s already a victim. Should we be making another one? Taking the life of another is always a moral crime.

Angelo Bagnasco

Currently Archbishop of Genoa, Bagnasco is one of a handful of Italian candidates for the papacy.

A conservative, he received death threats from gay activists in 2007 for making a statement which equated same-sex marriage with pedophilia.

He said: ‘Why say “no” to forms of legally recognised co-habitation which create alternatives to the family? Why say “no” to incest? Why say “no” to the pedophile party in Holland?’

Gianfranco Ravasi

Another Italian, Ravasi is an unusual candidate for several reasons. Since Pope Benedict’s resignation, he has been vocal in denouncing the ‘divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies’ afflicting the Vatican bureaucracy.

He has also spoken out about his desire to understand young people, and claims to have started listening to the lyrics of the late British pop singer Amy Winehouse in order to help him do this.

For 17 years Ravasi had his own show on Italian television, Le frontiere dello spirito (Frontiers of the spirit) and also has a Twitter account although he has been criticized for failing to tweet personally.

He has been a cardinal since 2010.

Christoph Schönborn

Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. Whilst conservative, he is the most progressive of the candidates, having overruled a priest’s decision to prevent a gay Catholic serving on a parish council in 2012.

He also caused controversy in 2010 by suggesting it was time to re-examine the issue of priestly celibacy following revelations of sex abuse within the church.

Cardinal Schönborn later went some way towards retracting the statement, saying he was not seeking to ‘question the Catholic church’s celibacy rule’.

When asked if he would like to succeed Pope Benedict he said: ‘My heart is in Vienna, my heart is in Austria – but naturally with the whole church as well.’

Choosing the pope

The new pope will be elected by a conclave of the College of Cardinals, the church’s most senior officials, who are usually ordained bishops.

The election is as complicated, traditional and bureaucratic as the Vatican itself. A series of sermons, prayers and vows proceeds and accompanies the casting of ballots.

There are 115 electors. Anti-gay Cardinal Keith O'Brien would have represented Britain and Ireland in the vote but had to quit after he was exposed for 'sex acts' with his own priests.

The cardinals and a small number of servants to assist the conclave are sealed into the Sistine Chapel and sworn to secrecy during the elections. If they look up towards the heavens they will be greeted by the world’s most famous homoerotic art, the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, who is widely believed to have been homosexual.

The next Bishop of Rome is chosen, from the ‘papabile – those capable of becoming pope’ by a two-thirds majority. If after three days there is no winner, there are three more phases of seven votes and then the field is narrowed to the two front-runners for a run-off election.

The ballots are burned after each election. In the most famous bit of conclave theater, black smoke billowing from the chimney indicates to the crowds in St Peter’s Square and the world’s media that a pontiff hasn’t been chosen; white smoke and a peel of bells announce a new pope.

The list we have drawn up is of the most likely candidates but as the ballots progress it’s often not the favorites but compromise candidates who emerge. And technically any Catholic man can be elected – you don’t have to be a cardinal or even a priest, although it’s been a few hundred years since such an outsider was chosen.

The conclave had been widely tipped to begin on Monday (11 March) although the start date has not yet been announced and it may be well into next week.

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