The Pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and several other Christian churches subordinate to Rome. He is also the head of state of Vatican City.

Every Pope is considered by Roman Catholics to be a direct successor of St. Peter who founded the Roman Church and was an apostle of Jesus. The present pope is the 365th such successor. The College of Cardinals elect a Pope in a Papal Conclave, a process in which they remain sequestered in a similar fashion to a jury.

John Paul II

Pope John Paul II and the previous Vatican II Council set many precedents that his successor will be expected to follow. PJP2 was a historic and epochal figure, the third longest serving figure to head the church, who appointed all but 3 of the voting (under age 80) Cardinals who elect not just this Pope but any future Pope.

While, as in any election, it is not possible to guess the motives of any particular Cardinal, it was widely speculated that the cardinals sought a person who would be:

The nationality of the new Pope was not expected to be a factor, but Cardinals from Africa and Brazil were considered to be extremely desirable candidates for sharing many of the above characteristics. Though, many believed that a world-travelling non-Italian Pope would be more inclined to centralize the church into a single command hierarchy if only because of the difficulty of dealing with such a complex organization in a language that is not one's mother tongue. This may have played a role in the selection of a Vatican insider, Joseph Ratzinger, from Germany.

Benedict XVI

On April 19, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, the 78-year-old former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected after only two days. This was largely considered to be an approval of the direction of the church's doctrine, and to disappoint liberal Catholics who had hoped for relaxation of some doctrines notably on birth control, abortion and role of women in the Catholic Church. His first words as Pope:

:"After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals of the Church have elected me, a humble and simple worker in the margins. My consolation is that the Lord is able to work with humble and simple instruments that are insignificant of themselves..."

He has lived in a small apartment just outside the Vatican walls, and is considered a personable and humble man.

potential future Popes

Ratzinger's age is a source for speculation about his health.

Many candidates for Pope in 2005 may remain papabili the next time the Cardinals elect a Pope. A short list: