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The preferential option for the poor that it advocated became a rallying cry in Latin America, which is why a candidate from the region - Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer is the one most frequently mentioned - might choose this evocative name.
The name will first be heard when a fellow cardinal emerges on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to announce “habemas papam” - we have a pope - to the crowd gathered in the square.
Pius, last used by Pius XII from 1939 to 1958, would signal a staunch conservative while John, which recalls his successor John XXIII from 1958 to 1962, could refer either to a compassionate pastor or a reformer.
John XXIII was a jovial type who convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that led to some reforms the last two popes rejected and devoted their papacies to reining in.
Milan’s Cardinal Angelo Scola, another top contender, might choose Pius, the second name in the betting list. In a sermon on Sunday, he said the next pope should guide the Church “in the footsteps marked by the great popes of the last 150 years”.
There were four popes named Pius in the last century and a half, all of them distinctly conservative and believers in a strong centralised papacy with the most recent of them still a figure of controversy over his role during World War Two.
Pius IX (1846-1878) rejected democracy, Pius X (1903-1914) denounced modern liberal politics and Pius XI (1922-1939) is remembered as an autocratic ruler. Under Pius XII (1939-1958), the Church cracked down on liberal theologians.
While the name might imply a strongly orthodox papacy to Catholic prelates, Jews would most vividly recall bitter inter-faith debates over Pius XII and accusations he failed to stand up to Hitler and Mussolini during World War Two.