Canadian Cardinals, Marc Ouellet, left and Thomas Christopher Collins are followed by tourists as they walk in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Saturday, March 9, 2013. The preliminaries over, Catholic cardinals are ready to get down to the real business of choosing a pope. And even without a front-runner, there are indications they will go into the conclave Tuesday with a good idea of their top picks. The conclave date was set Friday during a vote by the College of Cardinals, who have been meeting all week to discuss the church’s problems and priorities, and the qualities the successor to Pope Benedict XVI must possess. (Associated Press)

Matthew Brown

With 115 cardinal electors sets to begin voting Tuesday for a new pope, news reports from the Vatican are making much of the fact that no frontrunner has surfaced, unlike the past two conclaves.

When Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II were elected, cardinals had solidified behind at least two of their colleagues before filing into the Sistine Chapel to cast their ballots.

But this time around, several names have been repeatedly mentioned with no single individual surfacing as favorite, sparking speculation on why the College of Cardinals will enter Tuesday’s conclave divided.

Father Thomas Reese of Georgetown University offered several hypotheses in the National Catholic Reporter for why no frontrunner has emerged: the cardinals need more time, the powerful Italian bloc of the college is divided, there are no A-grade prospects, or there are too many qualified candidates.

“This could easily change in the next few days before the conclave starts, but it is surprising granted that it has been almost three weeks since Pope Emeritus Benedict announced his resignation,” Reese wrote. “One would think that at least a couple of frontrunners would have surfaced by now.”

Reuters’ Tom Heneghan explored the history of past conclaves, observing that some cardinals have been positioning themselves for pontiff for years, not just during the weeks since Benedict shocked the church by becoming the first pope to resign in 600 years.

“All cardinals would deny campaigning for an election they believe is guided by the Holy Spirit. Stumping for votes is the best way to turn other electors against a candidate,” he wrote.

“Instead, an ambitious cardinal takes part in Vatican synods to mingle with other prelates, visits colleagues regularly and delivers lectures that show off his wisdom and language skills. Publishing regularly is also advisable.”

But don’t expect the conclave to drag on for more than a couple of days before white smoke snakes from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, signifying two-thirds of the cardinals have settled on a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

David Gibson of Religion News Service cited research indicating cardinals are more inclined to change their votes if they see support coalescing behind a specific candidate.

“These ‘strategic’ voters — as opposed to ‘sincere’ voters who backed the same person through each ballot — thus pushed the conclave to a speedier-than-expected resolution, according to J.T. Toman, an expert in econometrics at the University of Sydney and author of the paper, The Papal Conclave: How do Cardinals Divine the Will of God?

By observing voting patterns in seven 20th-century conclaves, Toman found that observing voting was more persuasive in changing votes than the discreet lobbying during lunches or coffee breaks.

For those following the papal election process, social media has created a virtual conclave that has revealed more about the process than in the past.

“While the election starting Tuesday will remain strictly secret, social media is providing a direct link to the events surrounding the succession, creating a virtual conclave that involves lay people in everything from voting to prayer,” reported Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press.