New pontiff by March, says Vatican
Pope Benedict XVI blesses cardinals during the consistory at the Vatican today at which he announced his resignation. Photograph: Reuters
A new pope will probably be elected by the end of March, a Vatican spokesman said today, after Pope Benedict left his aides "incredulous" with his announcement that he would resign because he was too weak to fulfill the duties of his office.
Up to 120 cardinals will take the momentous decision over who will next lead the millions of Catholics around the globe. The influential College of Cardinals will meet in Rome and choose Pope Benedict XVI’s replacement in a tradition dating back almost 1,000 years.
Benedict said he would step down on February 28th and would not take part in the conclave to elect a new pope, Father Federico Lombardi told reporters today at the Vatican.
After resigning, the former pope will move to a summer residence near Rome. After that, he will live in a former monastery within Vatican territory, Lombardi said.
Bookmaker Paddy Power suggested Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson is the favourite to become the next pope.
Turkson (64), is at odds of 9-4, meaning a successful €4 ($5.35) bet would win a €9 profit, the Dublin-based bookmaker said today. Canada's Marc Ouellet (68), is second favourite at 5-2, followed by Nigeria's Francis Arinze (80), who is at 3-1.
The leading Latin American candidates for the papacy seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of Sao Paolo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.
About half the cardinals who can vote are from Europe, even though only a quarter of the world's Catholics live there. If the conclave tilts to the Old Continent, Vatican watchers say Angelo Scola of Milan is in pole position.
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a former student and close ally of Benedict, is also considered a strong candidate.
Pope Benedict is to resign two months before his 86th birthday for health reasons after serving for almost eight years. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," the pontiff said.
The frontrunners for pope
Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of its advocates.
Possible drawbacks include his low profile.
Timothy Dolan, (USA, 62) became the voice of U.S. Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing. But cardinals are wary of a "superpower pope" and his back-slapping style may be too American for some.