As the papal conclave begins in Rome, wrapped in mystery and secrecy, there is no indication that the 115 cardinals will be deciding between just a couple of front-runners in choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
Milan’s Cardinal Angelo Scola and Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer are names that keep cropping up on the lists of papabili, but NBC News Vatican analyst George Weigel says no fewer than 20 men could get votes when balloting starts Tuesday in the Sistine Chapel.
They come from the traditional bastions of Italy, from growth areas like sub-Saharan Africa, even from the United States. Only time — and a puff of white smoke — will reveal which one will emerge as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the princes of the church who Weigel says could be considered for the top job.