With Pope Benedict XVI's resignation as head of the Catholic Church becoming official on Feb. 28, attention now turns to who the next pope will be. Speculation abounds: Will we have the first pope from Latin America? The first black pope? Another Italian pope?
With a decision expected by Easter, there are several front-runners.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Current Position: Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
Ouellet, who holds the powerful Vatican position of vetting and nominating bishops, has shown that he has the correct qualifications for the job. He also has ties to Latin America, which is important given that this is the region with the most Catholics. He generated controversy in 2002 when, at the urging of Pope John Paul II, he testified in front of the Canadian senate and urged lawmakers to vote against legalizing gay unions, which he called "pseudo-marriage, a fiction." He has also been criticized for his conservative marks, saying that his home province of Quebec had embraced a "culture of death" because of its acceptance of abortion and doctor-assisted suicide. In 2007, he published an open letter to Quebec's Catholics, apologizing for his remarks about women and homosexuals.
Archbishop Angelo Scola
Current Position: Arcbishop of Milan
Vatican insiders and Italians are often considered frontrunners, so it's no surprise that an Italian Archbishop is among the contenders. Catholic News says he is similar to the current pope, and the conservative theologian is considered, "Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI] but with a better popular touch. He's comfortable with the media, often better off-the-cuff than when he sits down and writes a speech. His texts can sometimes be dense, but his spontaneous commentary is accessible and informal with a good dose of humour." He has almost 19,000 followers on Twitter, and seems prepared to lead the Church in the modern world. He is also interested in Catholic-Muslim relations, and he founded an academic institute dedicated to reaching Christians in the Muslim world.
Cardinal Peter Turkson
Current Position: President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
There has never been a non-European pope in the modern-era, and the majority of Catholics now live in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Turkson could be the first African pope and the first black pope, and is considered a progressive choice. "For me, having someone from the southern part of the world - Africa, Latin America, Asia - I would not be too surprised if that happened," he said to the The Australian. "The church has been in Latin America for many years. We can't pretend there is not a certain leadership there in all these years." His comments about homosexuality and the sex-abuse scandal have generated controversy.
Other contenders: Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Hondurus, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy, and Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil.
Feature image courtesy of Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr.