Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley is the joint favorite to win the Papal election according to Italy’s paper of record, Corriere della Sera – and their readers’ pick.

The National Catholic Reporter website reports that the well respected paper asked eight contributors, including their own Vatican reporters and noted Vatican-watchers, to name their top three picks to be the next pope.

The report says Cardinal O’Malley was mentioned by five of those eight experts, tied with Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil and just one mention ahead of Angelo Scola of Milan.

Fellow Americans Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington got one mention apiece.

But Cardinal O’Malley surged ahead of his rivals in an on-line readers’ poll on the Corriere web site.

The Boston church leader drew 36.7 per cent of the vote as he outpaced Scola with 17.9 per cent and Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines with 14.3 percent.

Columnist John Allen explained Cardinal O’Malley’s popularity.

He wrote: “First of all, O’Malley is a Capuchin Franciscan, and the Franciscans are wildly popular in Italy. They’re considered the closest religious order to the poor and to ordinary people, the guys you can rely upon when the chips are down.

“They’re also considered the polar opposite of the usual clerical stereotypes – not haughty or imperial, but simple, honest, and utterly unpolitical.

“Second, the brief profile offered by Corriere della Sera to help voters make up their minds describes him as ‘one of the principal exponents of the policy against sexual abuse in the Catholic church’.

“At a time when the Vatican once again finds itself fighting off criticism related to the abuse scandals, that reputation looks pretty good.

“Third, the O’Malley profile also notes that he criticized Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, for once calling the criticisms voiced by victims of abuse “petty gossip.”

Allen also writes that: “For Italians, Sodano incarnates the Vatican’s old guard. Italians are in an anti-establishment mood at the moment, having recently awarded 25 percent of their votes in national elections to a former comic named Beppo Grillo who ran on a ‘rage against the machine’ platform.

“In that context, to see a Capuchin outsider taking on the powers that be in the church can’t help but stir hearts and minds.

“Of course, neither the readers of Corriere della Sera, nor the paper’s panel of experts, will be in the Sistine Chapel when the real balloting takes place. If you’re looking for a symbolic expression of what many people here seem to want in the next pope, however, you’re probably not going to do any better than O’Malley.”