A senior cardinal, who has been mentioned as a papal candidate and will be influential in electing the next pope, said in an interview the Roman Catholic Church must allow women to have more leadership positions in the next pontificate and beyond.
"The role of women in the world has increased and this is something the Church has to ask itself about," Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican's office for Eastern rite churches, told Reuters, even as the Vatican's central administration is to choose the man to succeed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
"They must have a much more important role in the life of the Church ... so that they can contribute to Church life in so many areas which are now, in part, open only to men ... This will be a challenge for us in the future," added the 69-year-old cardinal, who was interviewed in his office just outside St Peter's Square.
Women deserve to have more key positions in the Vatican administration "where they can make a very important contribution because of their qualifications," Sandri said, adding, "But they must also be co-participants in the dialogue and the analysis of the life of the Church and in (other) areas, even in the formation of priests, where they can play a very, very important role."
Currently, women in the Catholic Church cannot go beyond the position of under-secretary in Vatican departments, the number three post after president and secretary – which are open only to ordained men. At present, only two women are under-secretaries, one a nun and one a lay woman.
Sandri said the next pope should not be based on geographical area, but have holiness, physical strength, communications skills, and the ability to govern, given that the Church is in a crisis. "The problem is finding the four qualities together. Sometimes someone has an excess of one quality and less of others ... for me, the most important thing is that he be a man of faith who is not afraid."
The cardinal said one of the greatest challenges of the Church was to win back those suffering from a "loss of faith" who had "turned their back on God" and the Church. The new pope, he said, should be "someone who above all is, if not yet a saint – that is difficult to ask for – someone who is at least walking towards sanctity through a life of humility, work, prayer and witness to the Gospel."
Describing qualities a pope should have, the cardinal said, "A pope who has a certain vigor, a physical resistance, a capacity to carry out all the commitments of the papacy… A great ability to communicate, a gift to be able to express to others that the pope is a representative of God and the vicar of Christ but is also a human being who smiles, who shakes hands, who embraces people, who reaches out to people and is close to all those to approach him… He should also be one who knows how to govern, not only from personal experience but who will also surround himself with people who can help him do this."
Some believe that the next pope might be from Africa or Asia, where the Church is more vibrant. Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, who heads the Vatican's justice and peace department, is being seen as a leading African candidate.
"The Church is ready for a black pope but maybe the world is not," Sandri said. "We are open to anyone as long he is the best prepared, the best qualified, to face a time that is so difficult for the Church and the world."