Brazilian Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011.

He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of its advocates.

American Timothy Dolan, 62, became the voice of US Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed, but his back-slapping style may be too American.

Loading article content

Canadian Marc Ouellet, 68, is effectively the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare". The secularism of Quebec could work against him.

Meanwhile, Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile could hurt the 70-year-old if cardinals decide they need an experienced pastor.

Argentine Leonardo Sandri is a "transatlantic" figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. The 69-year-old held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007. But he has no pastoral experience.

Another Brazilian, Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. The Archbishop of Sao Paolo, the largest diocese in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere.

Italian Angelo Scola, 71, the Archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam.