Poll: Most U.S. Catholics approve of new pope from global south

(Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)An empty papal throne is pictured before the Ash Wednesday mass at the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican February 13, 2013. Thousands of people are expected to gather in the Vatican for Pope Benedict's Ash Wednesday mass, which is expected to be his last before leaving office at the end of February.

With the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI concluding next week, a new poll finds that a majority of Catholics in the United States say it would be "good" if the next pope came from the "developing world" like South America, Asia or Africa.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that six in ten U.S. Catholics think it would be "good" if the new pontiff came from a developing region.

Twenty percent say it would not matter where the next pope came from, while 14 percent think having the next pope from the global south is "bad."

Several of frontrunners to be elected pope hail from Latin America, Asia or Africa.

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Brazilian-born German Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, and Argentinian Leonardo Sandri, former spokesman for Pope Johnn Paul II, are considered the top two picks from South America.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana would be the first black pontiff if elected and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines is the top contender from Asia.

The next pope will be elected by 117 cardinals in secret conclave at the Vatican, starting March. Pope Benedict XVI said he would step down from the papacy on February 28 due to his ailing health.

More than 90 percent of U.S. Catholics have heard the news about his resignation. Benedict broke a tradition and became first pope to retire in 600 years.

As they await the election of a new leader, a majority of Catholics, 58 percent, thought it was "good" if the next pope would allow priests to marry, but 35 percent thought it was a "bad" idea.

However, when it came to the direction of the church, Catholics in the United States were divided. About half, or 46 percent, say the next pope should "move the church in new directions," the other half, or 51 percent, say the new pope should "maintain the traditional positions of the church."

When Catholics who said the next pontiff should move in a new direction were asked to describe in their own words the direction they would like to see the church go, about 20 percent wanted the church to become more modern.

Another 15 percent said the next pope should do more to end sex abuse in the church and punish priests involved. Others mentioned that the church should allow priests to marry,have  female priests, and accept homosexuality, among other suggestions.

Catholics who attend mass more often were found to favor the new pope maintaining traditional positions of the church, while those who attended mass less frequently were found to favor the next pope taking the church in a new direction.

The survey was conducted Feb. 13-18 among 1,504 adults (including 304 Catholics). The figures on U.S. Catholics was based on answers from Catholic respondents.

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