Could conclave elect first American pope?

CREATED Feb 11, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - Cardinal Timothy Dolan will get to vote for a new pope, but Dolan's name has also surfaced as a possible candidate.

It would be unprecedented, but an American never been elected as pope. Which begs the question: is it even likely?

Monsignor Ross Shecterle last saw Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in December. He noticed the pontiff's energy declining, but did not expect him to resign.

"[It was] certainly a surprise, and really it points out his real care for the church,” said Shecterle. “He realizes he can't do it anymore."

Now, it's time for another man to lead the church.

One cardinal making waves right now is Cardinal Timothy Dolan, even though no American has ever been elected to the papacy. But don't count him out just yet.

"He's a viable candidate,” said Shecterle. “He's incredibly well-known. He is a man of the church. He certainly has a world view, which is incredibly important to the papacy."

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki believes a pope born in a world superpower like the United State may not make the cut. But never say never.

"You can't tie the holy spirit down,” Listecki said. “This is not something where you can say, 'this will never happen.’"

Blogger and Vatican expert Rocco Palmo believes, whoever it is, the pope will need to be more in tune with technology and modern communication.

"The next pope, by all likelihood, is going to be someone who's used to having a smartphone in his pocket, having a computer on his desk, and that's going to break the bubble of the papacy," he said.

No matter the nationality, Catholics agree the next pope will have his work cut out for him.

"I think that's the next piece of the puzzle,” Shecterle concluded. “Being such a universal church, and being attentive to those needs."

Many catholic leaders believe the timing of the pope's resignation is meant to get the ball rolling on selecting a new pontiff, so he will be in place by Easter. The conclave begins in March, 15 to 20 days after Pope Benedict steps down.