The five men who are tipped to become the next Pope
Pope Benedict says he won't interfere in the choice of his successor after announcing he is to step down
POPE BENEDICT XVI has said he will "not interfere" with the appointment of his successor. The 85-year old Pontiff, who is stepping down after eight years as head of the Catholic Church due to "age and infirmity", said he would only make himself available to the papal conclave who will choose his replacement if he was needed.
The Church wants to install a new Pope by Easter, which falls on 31 March this year. The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggott told Radio 4's Today programme that trying to pick Ratzinger's successor ahead of time was a "mug's game", but added that there are several obvious contenders.
He said the Vatican might decide to choose a Pope from Africa – the continent where the Catholicism is taking hold most quickly – or look closer to home at one of Italy's cardinals. The bookmakers have also had their say, with William Hill installing Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson as the 3-1 favourite to take Catholicism's top job.
Here are five frontrunners to replace Ratzinger:
Cardinal Peter Turkson (pictured above): Many believe it's time for a non-European Pope and Ghana's 64-year-old cardinal would be a popular choice. Appointed a cardinal in 2003, Turkson is a "strong favourite" for the top job, according to The Guardian, which calls him "a TV star, a people's person and a wonderful priest". He speaks his native Ghanaian language, Fante, as well as other Ghanaian languages and English, French, Italian, German and Hebrew - as well as understanding Latin and Greek.
Cardinal Francis Arinze: Nigerian-born Arinze has "long been touted" as a possible Pope, says The Guardian. The 80-year-old is renowned for his ability to get on with Catholics and non-Catholics and his charm is legendary. One colleague remarked: "The beautiful thing about the cardinal is that he can say the hardest thing with a smile on his face and not offend people."
Cardinal Marc Ouellet: Described as "a staunch defender of Catholic rights in Quebec" by Canada's National Post, Ouellet is a 68-year-old professor and theologian who speaks "many languages" thanks to stints in various South American countries. The Post says he's an "enticing" choice because he's "very much a shepherd, who cares for the pastoral needs of the church the way a priest would in a parish".
Cardinal Angelo Scola: Milan's Scola was a hot favourite to take over after the death of Pope John Paul in 2005. A prolific author who has published more than 120 theological articles, the 71-year-old is seen as a man who can "reverse what Vatican insiders see as the decay of European culture", reports the policymic website.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga: The Honduran cardinal was another frontrunner to become Pope in 2005, says policymic. The 70-year-old has argued for a global anti-corruption court and for the pardoning of debt for poorer countries. He travels with armed bodyguards in his homeland because of his "tough stance on organised crime and political corruption".