The delay in setting the conclave date because of the wait for all 115 cardinal electors in Vatican City seems to have affected the chances of Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson to become the first black pope.
After Pope Benedict XVI stepped down as leader of the Catholic Church on Feb 28, the buzz was strong that the Ghanian cardinal has high chances of being the next pontiff.
Even before the pope officially stepped down, Paddy Power, the largest bookmaker based in Ireland, had given Cardinal Turkson an 11-4 odds that he would succeed the Pope Emeritus. He was followed by Italian Cardinals Angelo Scola (3-1), Tarcisio Bertone (6-1) and Angelo Bagnasco (6-1), Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet (6-1) and Argentinean Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (12-1).
As of Saturday, Cardinal Scola had overtaken Cardinal Turkson in Paddy Power with odds of 5-2, while the latter was on second spot at 7-2. On third place is another Italian cardinal, Tarcisio Bertone with 5-1 chances.
The changes in ranking could be explained by the Europe-centric thinking of bettors and may have based historical performance in believing that Italians have greater chances than the cardinals from other nationalities, even if there is a growing clamour for a pope from third world countries, mainly from the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America where church expansion moves at a faster rate than in Europe and the rest of the Western world.
Also down in the ranking is Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, an early favourite who initially was on top but now down to a 10-1 chance.
The change in bettor preference appears not to have been influenced by the Wednesday release of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) which came out with a Dirty Dozen - cardinals who allegedly have bad records in handling sexual abuse cases - since Cardinals Scola, Turkson and Ouellet are all on the roster.
However, it appears that the Thursday list of SNAP that endorsed three potential papabilis had some effect since Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle now is on 10th spot with a 20-1 chance and Austrian Cardinal Christof Schonborn is on sixth place with a 12-1 chance.
The daily, La Repubblica, estimates that Cardinal Scola could muster about 40 voters, including the American cardinals who are seeking reform in the church. However, it is short of the 77 required votes or two-thirds majority.
Of the 115 cardinal electors, 28 cardinals or 24 per cent are Italians, 11 or less than 10 per cent are Americans, while the rest come from different countries with 6 from Germany, 5 each from Spain, India and Brazil, 4 each from France and Poland, 3 each from Mexico and Canada, 2 each from Portugal, Nigeria and Argentina, and 1 each from 35 other nations.
However, Vatican observers said the Canadian and Ghanian cardinals could not be ruled out, citing the 2005 election of then German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who had a 7-1 chance but later became pope.
South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier opined that the next pope should be in the age range of 60 to 67, which would place Cardinal Scola outside that ideal age range since he is 71. The cardinal's preference for younger popes could be because of the unexpected resignation of Pope Emeritus due to his failing health. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pontiff in 2005, he was already 78, the oldest person to be elected pope since Pope Clement XII in the 18th century.
That would also remove Cardinal Tagle from the shortlist since he is only 55.
However, since it is not the bettors who would prevail, Catholics can only wait when the Sistine Chapel spews out white smoke and an official announcement is made who is Benedict XVI's successor.