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Cardinals may elect identikit new pope

The sign that millions of Catholics around the world will be eagerly awaiting next month - white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel signifying the election of a new pope. Pope Benedict's election in 2005 was greeted with jubilation then but his shock decision to step down at the end of this month has left many reeling. An uncompromising conservative, the 85-year-old pontiff leaves a controversial legacy, from problems at the Vatican bank to allegations of sexual abuse. Although he repeatedly apologised for the Church's failure to root out child abuse, critics said he did not do enough. In 2009, Benedict caused uproar on a trip to Africa when he said condoms should not be used as they could worsen the spread of aids. Benedict's orthodox Catholic legacy may also extend to his successor since he handpicked more than half of the 117 cardinals who will elect the next pope. There is no frontrunner among potential candidates, making this a much more open race than the last conclave. The cardinals will enter the Sistine Chapel for the secret conclave which is expected to start by mid-March and last several days.

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