With Pope Benedict XVI's retirement, the focus now shifts to who will succeed him, but as the exiting pontiff is living, there are still unanswered questions about exactly how that process will unfold. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
When it comes to selecting a new pope, the Catholic Church has many centuries of experience to fall back on.
"This has gone on for 2,000 years. So this will not be a new experience, the transition. The fact that it’s occasioned by the retirement of the pope is new," said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington.
Indeed, most popes, including John Paul II, have served until death. Then come nine days of mourning.
The conclave — the gathering behind closed doors of the cardinals who elect a new pope by two-thirds vote — usually begins 15 days after the pope's death. This time around, the timing is still unclear.
"This is going to move quickly. It can move very quickly because there’s not going to be the normal period of mourning the death of the pope," said Terrence Tilley of Fordham University.
"It'll probably be the end of March. And, you know, now's the idea when everybody's going to be discussing who the new pope ought to be," said Brian O'Dwyer, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.
There has been speculation it may finally be time for a pope from Africa or Latin America, like Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Francis Arinze of Nigeria or Peter Turkson of Ghana.
Other frequently mentioned candidates include Marc Ouellet of Canada and Angelo Scola of Milan, Italy.
"I know it's a long shot, because they don't usually like Americans, because America’s so powerful, but if anybody would make a great pope, it's our own Cardinal Dolan," O'Dwyer said.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan told reporters Monday, "That would be highly improbable."
Dolan will be among the 118 cardinals who are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote. Outgoing Pope Benedict will not have a vote; at age 85, he is too old in any case.
The United States has 11 electors or about 9 percent, second only to Italy, home to nearly a quarter of the electors.
It is a process steeped in secrecy: ballots are burned after each vote. Black smoke means no selection and white smoke means a new pope has been chosen — a process likely to play out in just a few weeks.