Today’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI intends to resign because of ill health has taken the Catholic Church by surprise – and although there is no obvious successor – bookmakers say Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is a strong contender.

Pope Benedict XVI has been staunchly anti-gay during his tenure in office.

A theological conservative, with uncompromising views on gay rights, women priests and condom use. In 2005, the Pope listed several ways to combat the spread of HIV, including chastity, fidelity and anti-poverty efforts, but he rejected the use of condoms.

His opposition to equality began long before he arrived as leader of the Vatican.

In 1986, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he warned the Catholic Church against shifting to a liberal position on homosexuality and that it amounted to a moral ‘evil’.

Such rhetoric has remained a familiar theme of his pontificate.

At the end of last year, During a Christmas address at the Vatican, the Pope praised an essay by France’s Chief Rabbi, who described equal marriage as a “Trojan horse”, which would “undermine” straight marriage.

Along with his anti-gay remarks, he was also denounced by many for his perceived reticence over the Catholic priest child abuse scandal.

While there are several papal contenders, there is no obvious front-runner, however, the name of Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson – who at 64 is relatively young and seems to be slightly less fixated on gay issues than the current incumbent – is seen as a key favourite by bookmakers.

According to PolicyMic, in 2009, Cardinal Turkson reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s social teaching on contraception, in regards to statements made by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms were not a solution to Africa’s AIDS crisis.

Cardinal Turkson did not rule out condoms in all circumstances and suggested they could be useful in the situation of a married, faithful couple where one partner is infected.

Commenting to the US Catholic publication in August 2010, on the attitudes of African church leaders towards homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson appealed for a more nuanced interpretation by western observers. He said: “Just as I hesitate to speak globally about Africa, as if it were one and the same, we also need to be careful about generalising about Western values. In Africa just as in the rest of the world, culture is changing, lifestyles are changing.

“Traditionally, it’s of utmost importance for African societies to ensure growth for survival. Therefore, when people say that traditional African societies consider homosexuality taboo, for instance, it’s because any lifestyle that does not lead to the growth of the community is seen as dysfunctional.

“A lot of traditional families will have that view. And sometimes that’s exaggerated to the point that when women are infertile, they are ostracised and mistreated.

“Of course, as cultures are changing, this view will be challenged. But in a traditional African society, people wouldn’t even tolerate or listen to talk about homosexuality.”

However, it’s also claimed that Cardinal Turkson has defended Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Bookmakers Paddy Power have drawn up a list of contenders to replace Benedict XVI. According to them the favourite is Cardinal Peter Turkson (9/4), with Cardinal Marc Ouellet next at 5/2 and Francis Arinze at 7/2.

Here is their full list:

9/4 Cardinal Peter Turkson

5/2 Cardinal Marc Ouellet

7/2 Cardinal Francis Arinze

7/1 Archbishop Angelo Scola

10/1 Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

12/1 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

14/1 Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

16/1 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

20/1 Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

25/1 Cardinal Raymond Burke

25/1 Cardinal Cladio Hummes

25/1 Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi

25/1 Cardinal Christoph von Schonborn

33/1 Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

33/1 Cardinal William Levada

33/1 Cardinal Camillo Ruini

33/1 Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

33/1 Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa

33/1 Cardinal Renato Martino

33/1 Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith

33/1 Archbishop Piero Marini

33/1 Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera

33/1 Cardinal Keith O’Brien (leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland)