Canadian cardinals prepare for tough papal decision

Cardinals from Toronto and Quebec agree that selecting the next pope will not be an easy decision.

3 cardinals from Canada head to Rome to choose new pontiff

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte speaks at a news conference ahead of the conclave in Rome. 1:07

Cardinals from Toronto and Montreal agree that selecting the next pope will not be an easy decision.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, said that playing a role in selecting the new pope will be an "awesome" responsibility at a time when the Catholic church has been shaken by the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Collins arrived in Rome on Monday and will take part in the conclave that will select Benedict’s successor. Earlier this month Benedict, 85, became the first Pope to resign in more than 600 years.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, an archbishop emeritus of Montreal, will also participate in the conclave.

"The job is not an easy one," he said on Tuesday.

Papal audience

Pope Benedict will appear for a final general audience in St. Peter's Square, starting at 4:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. CBC News Network will broadcast the event live. Thousands of Catholic pilgrims are travelling to Rome to attend.

Since Benedict's resignation, the church has been shaken by a number of scandals. British Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned earlier this week over allegations of inappropriate behaviour. That news, and questions surrounding Benedict's unusual decision to step down, have put an intense focus on who the church, which has more than one billion followers, will pick to replace him.

Speaking Tuesday from Rome, Collins told CBC’s Heather Hiscox he understands the importance of the decision before him.

"I’m overwhelmed by the majesty of the occasion," he said. "People have been coming up to me and saying, ‘We’re praying for you, we’re praying for all the cardinals.' So you get a great sense of lift, of support. We know the whole church is praying for all of us."

Collins said the new pope must have "the qualities of holiness and devotion.

"His mission will be to proclaim the gospel around the world. This is a time of immense excitement for the church."

Turcotte agreed the most important quality of the next pope will be his spiritual life.

"The Pope is not prime minister or union leader, [he is] a spiritual man," Turcotte said.

Collins also addressed the scandals facing the church as it prepares to select the new pontiff.

Cardinal Thomas Collins said the College of Cardinals will be looking to select a Pope with 'the qualities of holiness and devotion.' (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

"The church loses its ability to proclaim the gospel effectively unless we’re trying to do our very best to live with integrity, and we need to always do that," he said. "The conclave is seeking to enter into a period of spiritual retreat. To look deeply at all the issues that face the church. We need to be sure that these things don’t happen again."

The new pope will be selected in March. Popes have traditionally been chosen at the conclave, a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel. All cardinals younger than 80 can take part, a number reportedly around 117 or 118 at the moment.

Quebec cardinal could be successor 

Quebec's Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who will also participate in the conclave, is considered as a leading contender to succeed Pope Benedict.

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

Turcotte praised Ouellet for being involved in the nomination of bishops around the world.

"I would be proud, as a Quebecer, to have a pope from Quebec," Turcotte said.

But he also said there are many other qualified individuals, and there is no way to predict the final outcome.