(People are gathered in St Peter’s Square as Pope Benedict XVI leads his Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

After Pope Benedict’s papacy of almost eight years, the cardinals who will elect the next Catholic pontiff are more European, more conservative and more “Roman” than the conclave that chose him in 2005.

Benedict has handpicked more than half the men who will elect his successor. The rest were chosen by the late Pope John Paul, a Pole with whom the German pope shared a determination to reassert a more orthodox Catholicism in the new millennium.

Those two popes made sure any man awarded a cardinal’s red hat was firmly in line with key Catholic doctrine supporting priestly celibacy and Vatican authority and opposing abortion, women priests, gay marriage and other liberal reforms.

Benedict has also stiffened the Church’s missionary spirit by creating a Vatican department for what is called the New Evangelisation, a drive to spread the faith more vigorously.