TODAY   |  February 23, 2013

What are the chances the next pope is American?

A week before Pope Benedict retires, there is still no clear candidate to succeed him. There is a possibility New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, praised in Catholic circles for his efforts to revitalize the church, may be a frontrunner. TODAY’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> pope benedict met with italy's president this morning just five days before he steps down as the leader of the catholic church . there's some speculation today about whether an american cardinal could replace him as pope. anne thompson is in vatican city with more. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, erica. there's all kinds of chatter here at the vatican where pope benedict xvi is back on the job after his week-long lenten retreat. he appointed new bishops today to italy and mexico as people here at the vatican are getting ready for what are expected to be huge crowds for his final two events. meanwhile, there are many questions about this momentous occasion such as who will lead the church that are still unanswered. a week before pope benedict retires and there is still no clear front-runner to succeed him. however, there is a long shot. new york's gregarious cardinal timothy doland .

>> i'll do anything to get you guys to church.

>> reporter: praising catholic circles for his charismatic persona, his efforts to revitalize the church, and fighting the obama administration's contraception coverage mandate. but this week, doland was deposed about how he dealt with abusive priests as archbishop of milwaukee. what impact is this going to have on cardinal doland --

>> i think it will have zero impact on cardinal doland 's leadership within the conclave because he is a known quantity. he's a known man of integrity. he is known as someone who can communicate the catholic faith positively.

>> reporter: here in rome, another american cardinal, roger mahony , the retired archbishop of los angeles , is under fire for his role in moving and shielding abusive priests. not a contender for the papalcy, he faces his own deposition after which he will vote for the new pope. this week, an italian cardinal told a local newspaper mahoney should stay home and some american catholics agree.

>> all cardinals should be held to the highest standard. anyone whose hands are tainted should be -- should refrain from voting.

>> reporter: cardinals from ireland and belgium are also mired in scandal. but that's not likely to stop them from voting. the vatican says all cardinals under the age of 80 must vote, unless they are seriously ill or otherwise prevented from traveling. one of the things we'll be watching in the pope's final days is whether he decides to move up the start date of the conclave to choose his successor. erica?

>> anne thompson , thank you. lester?