Catholicism has historically been strongly associated with Europe, so much so that Hilaire Bedoc, a Catholic thinker, could write in 1920 that "Europe is the Church, and the Church is Europe."
But those days are long gone by now. Thanks to demographic trends, European Catholics are far outnumbered by their Latin American and African counterparts. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 40 percent of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics currently live in Latin America and 16 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa, while Europe stands at 24 percent.
And yet, the center of decision making remains the Vatican, and the papacy has only recently been opened up to non-Italians, let alone non-Europeans. Now that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his abdication, there is a real chance that we could see the first non-European pope.
Dr. Jennifer Hughes is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside and an expert on the Catholic Church in Latin America. Dr. Philip Jenkins is a professor of history at Baylor University and expert on the growing influence of the global South on Christianity.