Catholic Cardinals will start the conclave to elect Benedict
XVI's successor on Tuesday 12 March, the Vatican announced on Friday.
The secret ballot will be held in the world-famous Sistine chapel and the 115 cardinal electors taking part will be required to live inside the Vatican during the election.
For a new pope to be elected, 77 votes or two-thirds of ballots are needed, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists at a briefing.
The cardinals will be allowed no contact with the outside world and will not allowed to watch TV or have access to any media, he said. They will have access to priests for confession should they require this, he added.
Cardinals from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Italy are seen as having the best chance.
US cardinal Donald Wuerl in an interview Friday with Italian daily La Stampa predicted the conclave would not be brief, however, saying there was still "no clear choice" of candidate.
Britain's largest bookmaker William Hill has secretary of state Tarciso Bertone (Italy) in a lead with a quote of 9/4 overtaking countryman Angelo Sodano and Ghana's Peter Turkson.
About half the cardinal-electors (60) are European -- 21 of those being Italian -- and many have worked for the Vatican government or Curia, in Rome.
Sixty-seven of the cardinal electors were appointed by Benedict and 48 by his predecessor John Paul II.
Cardinals on Friday held their seventh round of pre-conclave and prayers talks at the Rome that have taken place since Monday.
The last "general congregations" in 2005 took three days, and the delay reflects the many issues facing the Catholic Church, observers say.
The discussions are held under an oath of secrecy, but Italian newspapers have published what they say are leaked details of the debate on the church's current problems including the Curia and the Vatican bank.
Last year European regulators said the bank was not doing enough to combat money laundering, while corruption and infighting in the Vatican was revealed by documents leaked by Pope Benedict's butler.
During Benedict's reign the Catholic Church was wracked by a worldwide scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests.
There are also tensions between traditionalists and reformers over issues including priestly celibacy, gay rights and the role of women.
Most Popular Stories
- Rackspace Ends Talks About Possible Acquisition
- Mercedes Rolls Out S550 Plug-in Hybrid
- Missouri GM Plant Adding 750 jobs
- Poverty Rate Drops for First Time Since 2006
- Parameters Being Drawn for IS Action
- Aaron Hernandez: I Felt Helpless to Refuse Police
- Cedeno Named USHCC Businessman of the Year
- Anheuser-Busch, Visa Voice NFL Disapproval
- Can Kobach Keep Taylor's Name on Ballot?
- Two-thirds of Hispanics Doubt Media Accuracy