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Possible papal successors2:35

John Northcott looks at several possible candidates to succeed the Pope, including a Canadian

Possible papal successors 2:35

Three Canadian cardinals will be part of the conclave to elect a new pope, and one is considered a leading contender to take over after Pope Benedict XVI steps down Feb. 28.

The selection of a Canadian as pontiff would be unprecedented. A non-European cardinal has never been chosen to lead the church.

The Canadians involved in the decision-making process are Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto, and Cardinals Jean-Claude Turcotte and Marc Ouellet, both from Quebec.

In a rare move, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign on Feb. 28, citing his deteriorating strength and health. The last pontiff to resign was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants.

Archbishop of Quebec possible successor

Cardinal Ouellet is the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops and joins Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, as potential successors to Benedict.

Cardinal Ouellet was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Quebec in November 2002, and elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals one year later. He participated in the conclave that led to the papal election of Benedict in April 2005. He is also prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

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Cardinal Marc Ouellet was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Quebec in November 2002 (Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press)

In his current role in the Vatican, the cardinal oversees the appointment of bishops and is active on numerous Roman Catholic commissions and committees. His special interests have included Latin America.

In an interview with the Catholic news organization Salt + Light TV published online last April, Cardinal Ouellet was asked whether he had hopes of becoming pope.

"I don't see myself at this level, not at all ... because I see how much it entails [in terms of] responsibility," he said. "On the other hand, I say I believe that the Holy Spirit will help the cardinals do a good choice for the leadership of the church, the Catholic Church, in the future."

Jean Pelletier, retired monsignor and chancellor of the diocese of Quebec, told CBC News that Cardinal Ouellet's chances are not high.

"You see, we have to remember that the Pope is not elected by journalists or by betting agencies. He's elected by cardinals. Cardinal Ouellet, when he left Quebec City, he went to Rome – the Holy See is a quagmire of intrigue – so it's very easy to make enemies there."

Benedict was about 'clarity and charity'

Cardinal Collins is the fourth cardinal in the history of the Archdiocese of Toronto and was elevated to the College of Cardinals in February 2012 in Rome. He told reporters at a press conference after noon mass on Monday that clarity and charity were at the heart of the Pope's teachings. When asked about succession, he said: "I haven't been thinking about it much. That's not a thing to speculate about — usually those speculations have no meaning."

Cardinal Turcotte is an archbishop emeritus of Montreal. He became a member of the College of Cardinals on November 1994 and also participated in the conclave that led to the election of Pope Benedict. He was elected president and led the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1997 to 1999.

The new pope is expected to be chosen by mid-March, before Easter, through a special gathering of cardinals who meet in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican until they can agree on a successor.