A Roman Catholic scholar visiting Montreal from Australia is laying her bets on Quebec’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet to succeed Benedict XVI as pope.

Tracey Rowland, the author of a book on Pope Benedict’s theological writing and Dean of Melbourne’s John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, said Ouellet’s breadth of experience makes him an ideal candidate to replace the retired pope.

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Catholic scholar Tracey Rowland says Cardinal Marc Ouellet is on her top two list among leading contenders to replace Benedict XVI. (CBC)

Early in his priesthood, Ouellet spent several years working in Colombia and among his six languages, he speaks fluent Spanish — apparently with a Colombian accent.

Rowland said that experience in the developing world, combined with Ouellet's status as a Canadian — not to mention, a French Canadian — put him ahead of any cardinal from the U.S.

"Some people get a bit miffed that Americans seem to run everything," Rowland said. "They are less likely to vote for an American cardinal, but a Canadian could be quite acceptable."

Highly regarded theologian

Ouellet knows his way around the Vatican and, as prefect of the Church's Congregation of Bishops, Rowland says he has vast administrative experience.

On top of that, she says, Ouellet is a highly regarded theologian.

If one was to make a checklist of credentials, Rowland said, Ouellet would be able to tick off every box.

'I would start asking myself – maybe there is more to this man than I have imagined,' —Catholic scholar Tracey Rowland

Rowland believes Ouellet will run neck-and-neck against the Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola.

Scola, the former Patriarch of Venice and one-time Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical Lateran University, is also regarded as worldly, a great intellectual and a strong communicator.

Irish bookmakers favour Ghana's Cardinal Peter Terkson, and Rowland agrees that he is a likely winner if the cardinals decide it is time for a pope born in Africa, where the Catholic Church is growing.

"But if having an understanding of the developing world is only one criteria, then it may be that others — like Cardinal Ouellet —  would be seen to have many more strings to their bow," she said.

Too socially conservative?

In secular Quebec, many dismiss Ouellet as dogmatic and a social conservative, whose views are far to the right of the prevailing attitude on issues ranging from birth control to homosexual marriage to women in the priesthood.

The vast majority of Quebecers are nominally Catholic, although few grace the province’s hundreds of parishes with their presence except for the occasional wedding or funeral.

Rowland said it’s hard to say whether that would change should a native Quebecer be named to head the Catholic Church. She said, if she were a Quebecer, she'd be proud of Ouellet.

"In this conclave, there is a lot of talent," Rowland said. "So if a cardinal from Quebec was deemed to be the one with the greatest gifts to give the church, I’d be immensely proud."

"I would start asking myself – maybe there is more to this man than I have imagined."