MONTREAL - Quebec's other cardinal — Montreal's populist former archbishop — thinks locals would certainly be happy if one of their own became the new pontiff.
Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte kept his voting intentions to himself as he prepared to depart for Rome on Tuesday, although he said he'd be proud if Marc Cardinal Ouellet emerged as the new head of the Roman Catholic Church.
"We would be proud to have a pope from Quebec and the candidacy of Cardinal Ouellet is a very important one because he's very well known around the world," Turcotte said of the former archbishop of Quebec City.
Turcotte is among the select group of cardinals who will participate in the conclave to choose a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI.
The Pope steps down officially on Thursday and no specific date has been set for the beginning of the vote. Turcotte said it would be ideal to have the new one in place before Holy Week — the week before Easter.
Turcotte, viewed as a relative populist who was more in touch with the masses during his time as archbishop of Montreal, told reporters he doesn't know if the new pope will move the church in a different direction.
He was reluctant to define a shift in terms of the "left" or "right" but said it was clear there would be divisions between socially progressive and more conservative-minded elements.
Ouellet has long been cast as a small-c conservative, but Turcotte says both sides are important to the church. He also said other factors play into the decision.
"The first quality of the man we're going to choose will be his spiritual life," Turcotte said.
"The pope is not a prime minister or a union leader. He's a spiritual man and it's important he has some human qualities, but it's very important that he have very good faith and receives the Holy Spirit in his governing of the church."
Questioned about some of the topics confronting the church, such as accepting married priests or the issue of same-sex marriage, Turcotte said church doctrine has long been set and doesn't easily change, even if public opinion does.
But he acknowledged the church has certain "hard attitudes that perhaps need to soften." Turcotte said he'd be open to discussing allowing priests to marry.
He also said that while civil unions of homosexuals may be acceptable, recognizing gay marriage or adoption is more problematic, as heated debates in France have recently demonstrated. He added that the church, on this subject, has a position that cannot change easily.
Robert Dennis, a Queen's University history professor who specializes in the modern Vatican, says the next pope is unlikely to implement drastic change.
"By in large, whoever is elected is likely to be conservative," said Dennis. "Whether they are 'as' conservative, it's really the degree more than anything else."
Turcotte acknowledged it's very possible there could be a first non-European pontiff and that Ouellet isn't the only possible candidate.
"We don't know what's going to happen — I don't know,'' Turcotte said. He (Ouellet) is not the only one and there are other cardinals who would be very good.
"But who will win? I don't know."
Bookmakers and Vatican observers consider Ouellet among the favourites. The native of La Motte, Que., is head of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which vets bishop nominations worldwide.
Dennis doesn't believe Ouellet can win on the first round, but could emerge as a consensus candidate if two camps form along European and Latin American lines.
"The most likely option is to look to Europe or to look to Latin America, and it's going to require the European cardinals themselves to concede," Dennis said.
"The College of Cardinals is a European, Italian institution and moving out of Europe will take their general will."
In total, three Canadians will have a vote on the next pope — Turcotte, Ouellet and Thomas Cardinal Collins, the archbishop of Toronto.
Before departing for Rome last weekend, Collins said he was keeping an open mind about the qualities the next pope should have.
Ouellet hasn't spoken publicly since the Pope's announcement he was stepping down.
Turcotte noted that lobbying for the pontiff job is strictly forbidden and comes with excommunication if a cardinal is caught campaigning.
One of 115 cardinals under the age of 80 who are expected to vote, Turcotte was considered a long-shot contender for the papal post in 2005, when Pope John Paul II passed away.
Cardinals will meet before the conclave and Turcotte says the discussion is likely to centre on problems facing the church — notably the erosion of the clergy in North America and Europe as well as the scandals that continue to plague the institution.
Turcotte, who retired last March, is participating in his second conclave. He said he wasn't surprised to be returning to Rome this time as Pope Benedict, 85, had said he would step down if his health didn't permit him to continue.
Turcotte said he is looking forward to an audience with the outgoing Pope on Thursday.