VATICAN CITY - Dozens of candidates are vying for the Vatican's top job, which will be chosen by a conclave of cardinals in March in the Sistine Chapel.
Following are some of the top contenders tipped to be the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics:
The 72-year-old Archbishop of Milan is the top Italian candidate. He is a keen promoter of inter-religious dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Christians.
He is also an expert on bioethics, an issue on which Church teachings are currently lagging behind scientific advances.
The Archbishop of Vienna, 68, is a protege of outgoing Benedict XVI and was a favourite for future pope before he called in 2010 for a re-examination of the contentious issue of priest celibacy in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal.
He has also criticised powerful figures in the Vatican for covering up the sex crimes.
Archbishop of Budapest since 2002 and a specialist in canon law who has taught at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, the 60-year-old Hungarian is tipped as another European frontrunner.
Keeping the St. Peter's chair in the hands of Europeans would help ensure the future of the Church in the increasingly secularised continent.
LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE
The Archbishop of Manila was last year appointed the Church's second youngest cardinal. The 55-year-old is tipped as an outsider to watch for his dynamism, charisma and stellar rise within the Church so far.
His relative youth stands against him, but he is very popular in Asia and has worked closely with Benedict.
Canada's former archbishop of Quebec, 67, Ouellet now heads the influential Congregation of Bishops.
Known for his conservative theological views -- very much in line with Benedict's -- Ouellet could be favoured for the pull he may have in the increasingly secularised West. Supporters hope he would also crack down on the unruly curia, the Vatican's government.
Archbishop of New York and a "modernist conservative", 63-year old Dolan is media savvy -- a plus point in today's social media society.
Vatican observers say his strong point lies in heading up a diocese which has been on the front-line in the damaging sex abuse scandal which had rocked the Church, but he has been heavily criticised by abuse victims group for covering up cases.
The head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the 64-year-old Ghanaian is leading the race to become the Vatican's first African pope.
He is considered progressive by supporters but his decision to show a recent synod a video criticising Muslims has damaged his chances according to some, who accuse him of lacking key interreligious sensibilities.
Others tipped are Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the 74-year-old Archbishop of Kinshasa in Congo, and Nigerian John Onaiyekan, the 69-year-old Archbishop of Abuja who promotes dialogue with Muslims.
JOAO BRAZ DE AVIZ
Brazil's 65-year-old prefect of the Vatican department for religious congregations has won praise for his handling of the difficult task of trying to rebuild trust between the Vatican and religious orders, such as a group of nuns in the United States considered too secular and liberal. His deputy was stripped of his post last year for going too far in attempting to mend fraying ties with the nuns.
JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO
The Archbishop of Buenos Aires, 77-year old Bergoglio won the most amount of votes after Benedict in the papal conclave in 2005, but voters may be put off this time around by his age.
OSCAR RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA
The Honduran head of Caritas Internationalis, 70, is a favourite among progressives but is considered by the Church's more traditional members to lean too far left, and is unlikely to win the two-thirds majority needed.