VATICAN CITY -- Cardinals arrive at Vatican City Tuesday to elect a pope who will have to grapple with myriad controversial issues, including papal finances and sex-abuse scandals.
The 115 electing cardinals, who Tuesday move into the Santa Martha residence behind St. Peter's basilica, will not be seen again until a new pope is presented to the world.
"This is a great historical moment," said South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier. "But we have to do it properly, and I think that's why there isn't a real rush to get into things."
Choosing the next spiritual leader for some 1.2 billion Roman Catholics is no easy feat. As the conclave begins, the short list of possible candidates has grown to more than a dozen and there is no clear front-runner.
"I think the cardinals will have their minds swirling with ideas," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, assistant to the Holy See press director, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. The important thing is that the next Pope be "a holy man who can light a fire," he said.
These days, the Vatican is in need of that kind of charisma, experts say. With fewer Catholics in the western world and a spurt of callings in developing countries, the church will have to widen its embrace while facing complex challenges head on.
Vatican finances were front and center Monday at the last pre-conclave congregation as Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the acting head of state since Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, outlined the efforts of the Holy See in cleaning up its bank's international reputation.
A scandal last year exposed corruption and money laundering through the Vatican bank.
Repairing the trust of believers worldwide after a decade of child-molestation and sex-abuse scandals is another imminent challenge for the Catholic Church. "The Vatican needs to adopt a line of transparency and push for these things to come out," said Paolo Rodari, Vatican blogger and reporter for the Italian news daily La Repubblica.
While pope, Benedict XVI admitted the church had a track record of covering up such scandals and pushed for tougher laws to weed out abusers. He even met with the victims. But critics say the pope did not adopt a mandatory global policy of reporting abusers to the police. Even after the media outbreak, he did not order dioceses around the world to release their files to facilitate investigations.
"The Roman Curia needs to be reformed because it has become unmanageable," said Rodari, who described the atmosphere inside Vatican walls as "not collegial."
When Benedict XVI gave his two-weeks notice, he said the church needed someone younger and stronger. Vatican observers agree that a candidate from outside the Vatican administration could bring a breath of fresh air to the Apostolic Palace.
Monday, workers made final preparations for the conclave, which included installing red drapes on the windows of the papal apartment where the new pontiff will make his first public appearance.
Tuesday, the cardinals begin with a morning Mass then enter the Sistine Chapel and take their seats beneath the frescoed ceilings by Michelangelo. One by one, they will take an oath of secrecy as the conclave gets under way. One vote is scheduled for this afternoon.