The Roman Catholic Church’s cardinal electors are scheduled to begin voting today for the man who will replace Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.

Cardinals from around the world are gathered in the Sistine Chapel where they will vote four times a day until they reach a two-thirds majority.

Their secret ballots will be burned after each round of voting. Black smoke wisping from the chimney indicates no candidate has received the required two-thirds majority. White smoke announces a new pope.

If a vote is held today, the first smoke likely would not be seen until around 3 p.m. local time, according to the Holy See Press Office.

Most observers predict it will take more than one vote for clear frontrunners to appear. More than a half-dozen names regularly appear among the perceived papabili, or potential popes, leaving much room for speculation.

Will the new pope be from Latin America to appeal to the region’s Catholic masses heading for Protestant pews? Or an African who reflects that continent’s growing ranks? An Italian insider? A reformist outsider? A modernizer? An American?

Regardless, the 266th pontiff will lead the church’s 1.2 billion faithful and a global institution plagued by sex abuse scandals, internal management troubles, competition from other faiths and shrinking membership.

What do local folks want to see in the next pope? The Post and Courier asked a handful.

Dr. Leonard Davis, a retired dentist from Michigan, calls the papacy “one of the most difficult jobs in the world.” Today, the post requires spiritual knowledge but also business and technological acumen, he said.

“With the technology that exists today, with instant communication from around the world, we need to have a chief executive who understands the fast-paced technological changes going on in the world,” Davis said.

The West Ashley resident would like to see a younger pope, no older than his 60s who embraces technology and social media. At 76 himself, Davis asks: What other institution would hire a new CEO already in his 70s or 80s?

Davis also prefers that the church shift from traditional teachings about contraception to embrace family planning. Poverty and overpopulation plague God’s creation, especially in developing countries, he said.

“The pope will be the CEO of a billion-member corporation with worldwide membership. That is a complex constituency with every ethnic group from every country,” Davis said. “He needs to understand and react to a variety of people.”

John Synovec, a self-described Army brat, sees the value of a pope who speaks multiple languages and can reach out across cultures and faiths. At 24, the Citadel grad and Bulldog football player hopes the cardinals look beyond politicking to elect a man who can ease bitter religious divides worldwide.

“I would like to see the new pope be able to reach out to garner members and foster a relationship with other religions, including Judaism and Islam. He can bridge a gap.”

Pope Benedict was a great theologian but not as visible globally as his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Synovec said. He hopes the new pope will tap into global forms of reaching new and future Catholics.

“I’m looking for someone to use a lot more social media and to be a bigger presence out there,” he said.

Cindy McElhinney, a lifelong Catholic with two children in Catholic school, also is program director for Darkness to Light, a local nonprofit that combats child sexual abuse.

She sees good progress in the church’s policies to combat abuse. However, plenty of room remains for the new pope to display zero tolerance of abusive priests.

“He has got to confront it head on in a very transparent way,” McElhinney said. “We have all felt a sense of betrayal. We want our priests to be perfect, just like we want our teachers and coaches to be perfect. It is shattering then they aren’t.”

However, child sexual abuse is not confined to the church. Abusers permeate our entire society, McElhinney cautioned.

“As a Catholic, I am obviously appalled and disheartened,” she said. “But it isn’t just the Catholic Church’s problem. It is all of our problem. We have to learn from the mistakes of the church and always act in the best interest of our children — no matter who it is.

José Mayen, a native Spanish speaker studying to become a deacon, calls the priest shortage a critical problem facing the next pontiff. His parish’s 10-year-old Spanish Mass draws 500 to 800 worshippers, but it lacks a full-time priest for its Hispanic community.

Mayen, 50, hopes the new pope will work to attract vocations without compromising traditional church doctrine on matters such as celibacy.

“We need to motivate new generations to dedicate themselves to Christ and become priests and religious,” he said. “But we are following what Jesus Christ did. He did not get married.”

The church also should reach out more into Hispanic communities for tomorrow’s leadership — not that the next pope must be Hispanic, he said.

“It doesn’t matter to me where he’s from as long as he guides the church with dignity and responsibility,” Mayen said.

Clydie de Brux converted to Catholicism 13 years ago and still sees much good in the church. Yet, she realizes challenges ahead including “the lack of adequate numbers of priests, abuse scandals, evangelism — an unending list.”

A fan of Benedict’s, she hopes his predecessor will spread more positive news about the church. He should address modern problems with a traditional adherence to scripture.

“Multiple characteristics come to mind for the new leader of the Catholic Church — an effective communicator who is savvy in listening, speaking and media skills,” she said. “Portraying a global positive image, in my opinion, also is very important.”

She also hopes for someone “young enough to remain pope long enough for the people of his church to develop a true relationship with him.”

Louise Doire began watching Pope Benedict XVI closely while studying at Harvard Divinity School, where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger silenced some of her favorite theologians.

Raised Catholic, today she criticizes the church’s exclusion of women in decision-making roles. She was dismayed by Pope Benedict’s “bullying” of American nuns and raising the rule of male-only clergy to the level of infallible teaching.

“If the church is going to attract women and keep them in the pews, they have to at least be open to dialogue rather than issue mandates from above and just expect women to follow,” Doire said. “We need a pope who is not going to see women’s rights through some kind of hierarchical power struggle.”

She also was shocked last month when Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, perceived as the top African candidate, linked pedophilia to homosexuality. She described the view as “ignorant.”

“It’s just deflating that we have the potential to have a pope who is not cognizant of pedophilia and its problems,” Doire said.