It is hard to know when a new pope will be elected. Prior to entering into the formal conclave this afternoon the cardinals have already had several days of collective discussion, before which they had plenty of opportunity, since the announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication, for informal exchanges. In addition, while no discussion takes place during the voting within the Sistine Chapel they can talk over the business at other points during the day(s) and evening(s) so it may be that things move fairly speedily and there is an outcome in the next couple of days.
The only one of those widely identified as “papbile” whom I know personally is Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, to which I was appointed a Consultor on the authority of Pope Benedict. I began in the role in 2005 under his predecessor Paul Cardinal Poupard and continued when the then-Archbishop Ravasi was appointed (in 2007) from his previous post as Prefect of the Ambrosian Library in Milan. He is a biblical scholar and is a prominent member of several Vatican departments. Although an academic and intellectual he is also known for popular broadcasts on themes from the Bible. Whether or not he is elected he is likely to be a prominent figure in the certain effort of the Vatican to engage more widely and more effectively with the secular culture of Western Europe.