The pool of papal candidates is huge: essentially anyone of the male gender.
The college of cardinals could elect any man to the post, as long as they agree to be baptized, ordained a priest and made the bishop of Rome, which is the pope's church position.
Realistically, in 2013, the pool is far smaller -- and the next pope is certainly going to be from within the College of Cardinals.
Shortly after pope benedict turns over the keys to St. Peters, the world's Roman Catholic cardinals will gather-behind closed doors-here in the historic Sistine Chapel. There'll be no TV coverage, no skyping, tweeting or blogging the play-by-play.
Out of the cardinals, 117 are eligible to vote. As of now, Vatican observers say these six cardinals are the front-runners.
- They represent Africa, Europe, and South and North America.
- Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria has been on the short list of top contenders for years. He is 80-years old and has spent 25 years at the Vatican.
- Peter Turkson of Ghana, the other African cardinal, is a relative youngster at 64; he may be too young by Vatican standards.
- Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is the only North American with a realistic shot at the papacy. At 64, he has experience working in Latin America, is a friend of the outgoing pope and could be a compromise candidate.
- Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the archbishop of San Paulo, is the leading South American contender. He is only 63 years old.
- Argentinian Cardinal Leonardo Sandri is also popular among his colleagues. According to insiders, Sandri is well-connected inside the Vatican but has little pastoral experience. Nevertheless, Sandri hails from Latin America, which now commands 42-percent of the world's Roman Catholics.
- Finally, the Italian: Cardinal Angelo Scola. Italy was left out of the last two papacies could return to control of the Vatican.
The fact that there are no leading candidates from the United States is no accident.
The likelihood of an American pope is considered the longest of shots. There are actually spreads on all this, just like college basketball or the Super Bowl. Top overseas bookmakers agree that the two African cardinals and the Canadian are the odds-on favorites to become pope.