Final day of jockeying before conclave begins task to pick new pope
VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Catholic cardinals had a final day of jockeying for position on Monday before shutting themselves into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope after Benedict XVI's shock resignation, with an Italian and a Brazilian who both head powerful archdioceses among the top contenders.
The cardinals held their last pre-conclave talks where they have been debating the challenges that the next pope will face and vetting possible candidates for the post.
Vatican insiders put Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola in the lead, but without the support of two-thirds of the 115 "cardinal electors" needed to become the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Brazilian Odilo Scherer, the charismatic archbishop of Sao Paolo and Latin America's best hope, is also seen as in with a chance after the red-frocked cardinals begin the storied process, cloaked in secrecy, of choosing one of their peers to lead the Catholic Church.
The electors must take a solemn oath of secrecy or face excommunication, though no examples of such a fate appear in the record, and Vatican journalists have shown a wily knack for extracting insider information. Vatican staff members who will work around the conclave from Tuesday were also due to take the same oath later on Monday.