The eyes of the world’s Catholics are turned toward the Vatican, where 115 cardinals begin choosing a new pope starting today.
The members of the College of Cardinals will seclude themselves in the Sistine Chapel and not come out until a new pope is elected. There is no telling how long it will take. But the world will know when the church has a new leader when white smoke billows from a special chimney installed on the chapel roof.
Their selection must receive at least 77 votes, a two-thirds majority. There is no clear favorite.
Some Vatican observers say the Church is badly in need of reform after the child sex scandal and what they see as a growing irrelevancy of church doctrine. They predict the cardinals will elect a younger pope. But the experts also say the more traditional-minded cardinals will push for a conservative.
Pope Benedict surprised the world last month, when after eight years he became the first Roman Catholic Church leader in 600 years to step down voluntarily.
The cardinals will officially enter the conclave at 5 p.m. local time. The first possible smoke sighting from the Sistine Chapel chimney should emerge around 7p.m. There will be no more than four votes per day until a new pope is chosen.