The newest guessing game in Vatican City is how soon the conclave will begin. By both law and tradition, the cardinals can't talk openly about it until one day after Benedict officially leaves office.
Pope Benedict XVI officially steps down Thursday.
A major issue plaguing the cardinals through the selection process will be the sex abuse scandals. But they must be dealt with, in the view of U.S. Cardinal James Stafford, who is too old to vote in the conclave.
"If it means to be despised, which in many ways it does mean, then we accept that," Stafford told CBS News' Allen Pizzey.
Faced with questions about overcoming the scandal and improving the church's image, Stafford said, "We build the image by accepting the reality that we're living in, and not being angry, and not being defensive."
How the scandals may affect the choice of a new pope will never be known. The penalty for anyone involved in the conclave who breaks the oath of secrecy, including technicians and even housekeepers, used to be decided by the new pope. But in one of his final acts, Benedict changed the penalty to excommunication.
It was issued almost at the same time as Cardinal Keith O'Brien took the unprecedented step of recusing himself from the conclave -- the first head to roll in the ongoing crisis over the sex-abuse scandals. A British newspaper reported that three priests and a former priest had filed a complaint with the Vatican alleging O'Brien had acted inappropriately with them. O'Brien has denied the allegations but said he was withdrawing from the voting so as to not have the focus of attention on that issue, rather than on the business of choosing the new pope.
There are plenty of other challenges for the conclave, according to John Thavis, author of "The Vatican Diaries, "I think, in general, the kind of mismanagement, leaks and corruption that have come to the surface over the last few years is going to be a factor when the cardinals come to meet. And I'm sure that now that these sexual episodes have been sort of thrown into the mix. I think they're going to be looking at that as well."
Those who have been in the conclave say they enter with a deep sense of responsibility and then pray for divine guidance -- something they'll need more than ever this time