Usually it is the cardinal who calls on the pope. But Giovanni Battista Re was so close to John Paul II that the pontiff once interrupted an Alpine vacation to fly to the cardinal's hometown of Borno in the foothills of the Alps.
Re, 71, ranks high on lists of strong contenders. He has served for years in some of the Vatican's most powerful offices, including one grappling with the clergy sexual abuse scandals. Even if he isn't chosen as pontiff, Re's views could sway the outcome.
One possible shortcoming is Re's lack of pastoral experience. Made a bishop in 1987, he worked for years largely behind the scenes in the secretary of state's office in the Apostolic Palace, which allowed him to draw close to the pope. In 2000, he became head of the Congregation for Bishops, advising John Paul about selections to lead dioceses worldwide.
Re also inherited some of the fallout over the Church's failure to move swiftly against bishops who allegedly protected priests accused of sexual abuse. He was part of the team of top Vatican officials who huddled with U.S. cardinals in Rome in April 2002 when they met with the pope about the sex abuse scandal.
Six months later, it was Re who signed a Vatican demand that U.S. bishops revise their zero-tolerance policy on sexual abusers in the priesthood.