March 11, 2013 10:00:14 AM
VATICAN CITY -- Cardinals gathered for their final day of talks Monday before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid debate over whether the Catholic Church needs more of a manager pope to clean up the Vatican or a pastoral pope who can inspire the faithful at a time of crisis.
Several cardinals were signed up to speak at the closed-door morning session, an indication that the red-capped prelates still have plenty to discuss before sequestering themselves Tuesday afternoon in the Sistine Chapel for the first vote.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Canada, acknowledged the importance of the task at hand, telling reporters as he arrived Monday: "Yes, tomorrow is a very important day in the history of the church."
There's no clear front-runner for a job most cardinals say they would never want, but a handful of names are circulating as top candidates to lead the 1.2 billion-strong church at a critical time in its history.
Cardinal Angelo Scola has serious management credentials, running the archdiocese of Milan -- Italy's largest and most important -- and before that Venice, both of which have produced several popes in the past.
He's affable and Italian, but not from the Italian-centric Vatican bureaucracy. That makes him attractive perhaps to those seeking reform of the nerve center of the Catholic Church, which was exposed as corrupt and full of petty turf battles by the leaks of papal documents last year.
Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer seems to be favored by the Vatican Curia, or bureaucracy. Scherer has a solid handle on the Vatican's finances, sitting on the governing commission of the scandal-marred Vatican bank as well as the Holy See's main budget committee.
As a non-Italian, the archbishop of Sao Paolo would be expected to name an Italian insider as secretary of state -- the Vatican No. 2 who runs day-to-day affairs at the Holy See -- another plus for Vatican-based cardinals who would want one of their own running the shop.
The pastoral camp seems to be focusing on two Americans, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O'Malley of Boston. Neither has Vatican experience, though Dolan served in the 1990s as rector of the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary up the hill from the Vatican. He has admitted his Italian isn't strong -- perhaps a handicap for a job in which the lingua franca of day-to-day administration is Italian.