On the first day that the Church is without a Pope, Cardinal Angelo Sodano announced that the first general congregation of cardinals will take place next Monday morning. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, made the date public in an official letter sent to the world’s cardinal on Friday March first.
The cardinals will meet from 9:30 to 12:30 on the morning of March 4 in the Synod of Bishops hall on the second floor of the Paul VI audience hall. They will convene again from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the same place.
Prior to entering into the Conclave where they vote for the next Pope, the cardinals of the Church will meet for a series of meetings to take care of business and to discuss who they think will be a good candidate to succeed Pope Benedict.
The cardinals could announce when the conclave will begin after their first meeting, but there is no guarantee of the timing.
Meanwhile and according to Vatican journalists based on their experience and informal conversations with the prelates a tentative list of papabile (potential pope) candidates has emerged. This first tentative list by countries is not definitive but gives an idea.
- 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.
- Odilo Scherer (Brazil, 63) ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. Archbishop of Sao Paulo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere. The rapid growth of Protestant churches in Brazil could count against him.
- Timothy Dolan (USA, 63) 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.
- Sean O'Malley (USA, 68) has been touted as a clean hands candidate since he was named to three U.S. dioceses in a row to settle sexual abuse scandals. Appointed to Boston in 2003 after a major crisis there, he sold off archdiocesan properties and prompted protests by closing down little-used churches.
- Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope would be a nightmare. Though well connected within the Curia, the widespread secularism of his native Quebec could hurt him and even friends say he is not charismatic.
- Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a transatlantic figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007. But he has no pastoral experience and his job overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome.
- Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul. He is also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission. While he has many fans, he only became a cardinal in 2012 and conclaves are wary of young candidates.
- Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the church's social conscience and backs world financial reform. He showed a video criticizing Muslims at a recent Vatican synod, raising doubts about how he sees Islam.
- Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
- Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile could hurt him if cardinals decide they need an experienced pastor rather than another professor as pope.
- Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 67) is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The Vienna archbishop has been seen as papal material since editing the catechism in the 1990s. But some cautious reform stands and strong dissent by some Austrian priests could hurt him.
- Peter Erdo (Hungary, 60) ranks as a possible compromise candidate if the conclave's European majority does not back an Italian but are wary of a pope from overseas. His two terms as head of European bishops’ council and strong links with African church leaders shows strong support among two important groups.