(WUSA9) -- Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl is a long-shot in the quest for a new Pope. But the journalists who watch the Holy See closest say he has many of the qualities the cardinals are seeking.
Rome is a place where the faithful read deep meaning into small symbols. And when Pope Benedict assigned Wuerl a home church in the eternal city, he picked a cathedral of singular import.
"This is the church of St Peter in Chains, the chains that bound Peter in Rome and in the Holy Land are here," before leading mass at the church on Sunday. Was Pope Benedict thinking that Wuerl might some day be heir to St. Peter?
Vaticanisti say reform-minded Cardinals are lining up behind an Italian, Cardinal Scola. The Italian curia may favor the Brazilian, Cardinal Scherer.
But the black smoke means neither have 77 votes, and that could open the way for an unlikely American. Wuerl lacks the super-sized personality of Dolan of New York or the quiet humility of O'Malley of Boston.
But he does have a global vision... a reputation as an excellent administrator... and he's evangelical. When Bob Scheiffer asked him on CBS Face The Nation the biggest challenge facing the church, he said, "The overwhelming influence of secularism that's drowning out the voices of faith."
Wuerl grew up in Pittsburgh, his father worked the night shift in a railroad freight yard.
He proclaimed zero tolerance for sex abuse, 14 years before the Vatican. He even challenged Rome when it refused to defrock a priest who had been accused of molesting a teenager. "If a priest is accused of abuse, and there's a credible allegation, he's simply removed from ministry," he told Fox News.
But Wuerl remains on Survivors of Sex Abuse by Priests list of the Dirty Dozen Cardinals. SNAP says he's done too little to warn parishes about potential abusers. DonaldWuerl.com will take you to a website focused on complaints about the Cardinal.
He tangled with the President on Obamacare and it's requirement that employers provide insurance that covers contraception. "There is no need for this Administration to redo the way America works," he told CBS last year.
Wuerl's odds of becoming Pope are long, but perhaps not impossible. "There's an old Roman saying, never put limits on divine Providence," he says.
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter says that may be another challenge for Wuerl. The Romans have fallen in love with O'Malley, and they roar at Dolan's jokes -- but there's been very little popular outcry for Wuerl.