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Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet leaves after attending the final congregation before electing a new Pope, on March 11, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. / Joe Raedle/Getty Images
If the cardinals of the Catholic Church seek in their new pope a man versed in the challenges of combating secularization and the deep-rooted internal problems facing a scandalized Vatican, Canada's Marc Ouellet is a strong candidate.
He also represents an opportunity for the clerics to show the Church is ready to embrace a non-European pontiff -- without them having to make the perceived bold decision to opt for a U.S. prelate, or one from Latin America, Asia or Africa.
With years of high-level Church service already behind him to scrutinize, however, Ouellet comes with some excess baggage, and there are doubts as to whether he has the spine to stand up to the Vatican's central bureaucracy, known as the Curia, or the persona to draw new members into the Catholic family.
Ouellet, 68, is the former Archbishop of Quebec and was made a cardinal in 2003. Currently, he heads the powerful Congregation for Bishops in Rome, to which all bishops report, so he knows what skeletons lurk in the Vatican closets and where they lie -- an appealing trait to cardinals interested in a pope who can clean house and address the scandals and corruption which have dominated recent headlines.
His qualifications include a genuine global perspective; he's worked as a missionary in Latin America and speaks six languages fluently, but he is also an extremely learned man, an intellectual, cut from the same cloth as the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.
Presiding over the Church in Quebec and the Congregation of Bishops during the height of the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal in North American have given him an air of authority on how the matter should be addressed, but there are also critics who say he failed to wield his power to really address the problems at the top levels of the Church.
Nor is the Canadian's record pristine. Media in his native country have suggested Ouellet was unable as archbishop to see Catholicism in Canada actually gain any ground, and if he couldn't do it in his own back yard, what hope could he have of leading the New Evangelization the Church craves around the world?
As an editorial in Toronto's Globe and Mail asked in the run-up to the conclave: "Can the Cardinal who couldn't save his Quebec church save the Vatican?"
There is also at least one uncomfortable family matter in his past. Ouellet's own brother pleaded guilty to sexual offenses involving two teenage girls only 10 years ago.
Many of his colleagues also reportedly worry that Cardinal Ouellet may be too nice a guy for the top job. The Vatican's finances are a mess, and infighting and corruption within the Curia is blamed. The pro-reform prelates in the conclave -- and they are believed to be a significant bloc -- are keen to elect a strong manager, a man bold enough to shake things up and implement real change.
Ouellet's tenure as archbishop of Quebec has left doubts on that front. He is known to be emotional, even tearing up during public appearances. He has also spoken directly about the job of pope, referring to it in 2011 as a "nightmare" post. While it may have been humility on his part, it could also be perceived as weakness by cardinals looking for a man with a stiff upper lip and sure footing.
Nonetheless, Ouellet's name remained near the top of the pile of "papabili" as the cardinals headed into conclave, often referred to as a likely compromise candidate -- a sort of comfortable, "almost American" choice.
In spite of that buzz, Ouellet, like the other cardinals, was dismissive. He quipped days before the conclave began that the man who walks in pope, walks out a cardinal.