Who’s who of the leading contenders to become pope

The first round of voting to determine a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI will begin tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Getty
The first round of voting to determine a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI will begin tomorrow afternoon. Picture: Getty
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THERE are no official candidates in the election for pope, which will begin when 115 cardinal electors file into the Sistine Chapel for their conclave tomorrow.

The closed-door conclave at the Vatican continues until a new pontiff is elected, in a process that usually takes about three days. Outcomes are unpredictable, because the winner needs two-thirds of the votes, or 77 out of 115.

A strong candidate could start out with dozens of votes in the first round of voting tomorrow afternoon. But if he fails to build on that in subsequent voting rounds – two each in morning and afternoon sessions – the cardinals might look for an alternative candidate who can unite a majority behind him.

Several names are often mentioned as “papabile” (potential)pope). Here are the dozen most frequently mentioned names:


Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and the leading Italian candidate. A cerebral expert on morality and bioethics, he is also familiar with Islam as head of a foundation for Muslim-Christian understanding. Theologically close to Pope Benedict, his intellectual oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.


Odilo Scherer (Brazil, 63) is the leading candidate from Latin America, where 42 per cent of the world’s Catholics live.

Archbishop of São Paulo, the biggest diocese in the country, he is conservative there, but would rank as a moderate elsewhere.

The rapid growth of Protestant churches in Brazil that woo away Catholics could count against him.


Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is the Vatican’s top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. A theologian of the Ratzinger school, he once said becoming pope ‘would be a nightmare’. Though well connected within the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, and in Latin America, the widespread secularism of his native Quebec could hurt him, and even friends say he is not charismatic.


Sean O’Malley (US, 68) is the ‘clean hands’ candidate if cardinals make settling the sexual abuse crisis a top priority.

Appointed to Boston in 2003 after a major abuse crisis there, he sold off archdiocesan properties to pay damages and closed down little-used churches, despite protests. His calm authority and

Franciscan humility could offset concerns about a ‘superpower pope’.

Possible alternatives

• Timothy Dolan (US, 63), right, archbishop of New York and head of the US bishops, has made his Church a conclave player like never before. His humour and dynamism impress many in the Vatican, where both are often missing.

• Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a ‘transatlantic’ born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as chief of staff in 2000-7. A ‘safe pair of hands’, he is often seen as an ideal deputy, rather than pope.

• Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55), below, has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul II. Now archbishop of Manila, Asia’s rising star has many fans, but became cardinal only last November.

• Peter Erdo (Hungary, 60) ranks as a prime compromise option if the conclave’s European majority fails to elect an Italian and fears a pope from overseas. Two terms as head of a European bishops council and strong links with African church leaders signal his wide contacts.

• Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 68) is a former student of Pope Benedict who became Vienna archbishop after a sexual abuse scandal. A polyglot preacher, he has criticised the Vatican’s handling of the crisis and backed cautious reforms, including more respect for gay Catholics. Strong dissent by some Austrian priests could dent his support among conservatives.