VATICAN CITY There are no official candidates in the election for pope, which will begin when 115 cardinal electors file into the Sistine Chapel for their conclave on Tuesday.
The closed-door conclave at the Vatican continues until a new pontiff is elected, in a process which usually takes about three days. Outcomes are unpredictable because the winner needs two-thirds of the votes, or 77 out of 115.
A strong candidate could start out with dozens of votes in the first round of voting on Tuesday afternoon. But if he fails to build on that in subsequent voting rounds - two each in morning and afternoon sessions - the cardinals might look for an alternative candidate who can unite a majority behind him.
Several names are often mentioned as "papabile" (potential pope). Here are the dozen most frequently mentioned names:
- Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and the leading Italian candidate. A cerebral expert on morality and bioethics, he is also familiar with Islam as head of a foundation for Muslim-Christian understanding. Theologically close to Pope Benedict, his intellectual oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
- Odilo Scherer (Brazil, 63) is the leading candidate from Latin America, where 42 percent of the world's Catholics live. Archbishop of Sao Paulo, the biggest diocese in the country, he is conservative there but would rank as a moderate elsewhere. The rapid growth of Protestant churches in Brazil that woo away Catholics could count against him.
- Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. A theologian of the Ratzinger school, he once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare". Though well connected within the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, and in Latin America, the widespread secularism of his native Quebec could hurt him and even friends say he is not charismatic.
- Sean O'Malley (USA, 68) is the "clean hands" candidate if cardinals make settling the sexual abuse crisis a top priority. Appointed to Boston in 2003 after a major abuse crisis there, he sold off archdiocesan properties to pay damages and closed down little-used churches despite protests. His calm authority and Franciscan humility could offset concerns about a "superpower pope".
- Timothy Dolan (USA, 63), archbishop of New York and head of the U.S. bishops, has made his Church a conclave player like never before. His humour and dynamism impress many in the Vatican, where both are often missing, and attract cardinals who want a strong manager as well as a preacher. But some oppose him, fearing he would use too stiff a broom to clean out the Curia.
- Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a "transatlantic" born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as chief of staff in 2000-2007. A "safe pair of hands", he is often seen as an ideal Secretary of State, or deputy to the pope, rather than pontiff. He has no pastoral experience and his Curia job is not a power position in Rome.
- Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul. Now archbishop of Manila, he became close to now retired Pope Benedict while working with him on a Vatican theologians commission. Asia's rising star has many fans but became cardinal only last November. Conclaves can be wary of picking young men who could have very long reigns.
- Peter Erdo (Hungary, 60) ranks as a prime compromise option if the conclave's European majority fails to elect an Italian and fears a pope from overseas. Two terms as head of a European bishops council and strong links with African church leaders signal his wide contacts. He has also been a pioneer in the New Evangelisation drive to revive faith in Europe.
- Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 68) is a former student of Pope Benedict who became Vienna archbishop after a sexual abuse scandal. A polyglot preacher, he has criticised the Vatican's handling of the crisis and backed cautious reforms, including more respect for gay Catholics. That and strong dissent by some Austrian priests could dent his support among conservatives.
- Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the church's social conscience and backs world financial reform. He showed an anti-Muslim video at a recent Vatican synod, raising doubts about his diplomatic skills. Critics say he is campaigning too obviously and is not papal material.
- Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He backs the support for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not its leftist political activism. The former Brasilia archbishop keeps a low profile, which could help or hurt his chances depending on how the conclave develops.
- Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) is Vatican culture minister and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. A brilliant preacher and writer, prone to quoting everyone from Aristotle to Amy Winehouse, his profile seems out of step with the preacher-manager who pope cardinals say they want to replace the towering theologian Pope Benedict.
(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Pravin Char)