By Bryan Llenas
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina is best known as the unofficial "Voice" of the pope, a nickname given to him after he announced the death of Pope John Paul II to the world on April 2, 2005.
"Tonight we all feel like orphans," Sandri famously said to a stunned crowd of 60,000 in St. Peter's Square. "Our most beloved Holy Father has returned to the house of the Father."
That fateful night was not the first that Sandri was a mouthpiece for the pope, after John Paul lost the ability to speak due to his worsening fight with Parkinson's disease.
Until 2007, Sandri held the position of Substitute of the Secretariat of State for General Affairs — the third highest ranking position of the Vatican, akin to the White House Chief of Staff. Sandri frequently traveled with both Pope John Paul II and later Pope Benedict XVI on apostolic trips to Mexico, Poland, Greece, Syria and more than a dozen other locations.
Vatican observers and experts believe Sandri has a chance to become the 266th pope — certainly one of the top Latin American prospects. They point to his long service within the Vatican walls, his experience in the Vatican's diplomatic corps and his managerial skills. And while he is Argentinean, his Italian roots boost his candidacy. He was born in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, in 1943, to Italian immigrants Antonio and Nella Righi.
Politically and theologically speaking, Sandri is considered a moderate. The Argentine Cardinal has a long history of working in the Vatican's diplomatic embassies. Besides Spanish, he also speaks Italian, French, German and English.
However, some believe the church is in need of someone who has solid pastoral skills, someone who can unite the church — but many say Sandri lacks sufficient experience. Other observers have also expressed concern about his ties to the Legionaries of Christ, a congregation founded in Mexico in 1941 by Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was publicly denounced by Pope Benedict in 2006 after the Vatican found evidence of claims that he had sexually abused minors. Cardinal Sandri frequently attended Legionaries of Christ events and presided over their ordinations in 2002.
Others associate Sandri with an unfavorable outlook for Argentina's Catholic Church due to its involvement with the government during Argentina's "Dirty War" in the 1970s, a dark period in the country's history when a military junta crackdown produced the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 Argentineans.
Today, Sandri, 69, is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Appointed in November of 2007, the same time he was elevated to cardinal, Sandri oversees the Eastern Churches, a congregation outside the Roman Rite that represents around 22 million members — but it remains unknown just how much political power this position gives him.
Sandri began working as a priest in Argentina before hitting the books and receiving his doctorate in Canon Law at the Vatican's Academy for Diplomats. He entered the Vatican's diplomatic service and in 1974 he began working at the Vatican embassy in Madagascar.
From 1977 to 1989, he worked at the Secretariat of State, the oldest department in the Roman Catholic Church performing all the political and diplomatic functions of the church. From 1989 to 1991, he served at the Vatican embassy in Washington D.C.
In 1997, Sandri was elected archbishop of Novigrad and appointed Apostolic Nuncio, diplomatic representative of the Pope, to Venezuela, then serving the same position but in Mexico in 2000 before he was appointed Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, where he served until 2007 when he became prefect.