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An American pope? What could help, or hinder, two cardinals' chances.

The US cardinals' experience dealing with the sex abuse crisis is seen alternately as a strength and a weakness. But other factors make any American a dark horse candidate to be the next pope.

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That may apply more to the charismatic Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has said that while Dolan was archbishop of Milwaukee it had a policy of making $20,000 payments to accused pedophile priests as incentives for them to leave the priesthood, according to multiple news reports.

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“My guess is that group of cardinals is just going to look at the United States and say, ‘look at that mess’ ” that’s come from the abuse crisis, Vance-Trembath says. “They have a lot to lose by electing anyone from the United States.”

Whether abuse crisis management ultimately helps or hurts prospects for an American pope, other longstanding factors will surely come to bear. And these suggest the next pontiff will likely come from somewhere else.

For example, unlike Europeans, Americans as a group are not known to be great linguists, according to Thomas Reese, a Jesuit and senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center who has authored several books on the Catholic hierarchy. More importantly, he adds, peoples worldwide might not warmly receive an American in the church’s highest office.

“The cardinals would worry about how the election of an American would be perceived around the world, especially in the third world and Muslim nations,” Rev. Reese said this week in an e-mail from Rome. “Many in the third world would suspect that the C.I.A. fixed the election or Wall Street bought it. Muslims would fear that an American pope was going to be a chaplain for the White House.”

Such factors might not be insurmountable. Reese notes O’Malley’s modest personality and identity as a simply clothed, Capuchin Franciscan Friar might outweigh traditional reservations about naming an American pope.

So might his fluency in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.

But other factors, including demography, work against Americans’ chances. Only eight percent of the world’s Catholics reside in North America, while two-thirds live in South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. If cardinals decide they want a pope who reflects the “Global South,” the next pontiff might be Filipino or Brazilian, not American.

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