The Vatican has set Tuesday as the the start date for the conclave that will elect the next pope. 

The Roman Catholic Church's press office said the decision was taken after a vote by cardinals on Friday.

Tuesday will begin with a Mass in the morning, followed by the first round of balloting in the afternoon.

All of the 115 cardinal electors will vote for the next leader of the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI's surprise abdication last month has drawn most of the world's cardinals to Vatican City for discussions on the problems facing the church, and to discuss who they want to succeed him.

There is no clear favourite to take the helm of the Vatican, which faces an array of problems following Benedict's rocky, eight-year reign, ranging from sexual abuse scandals to internal strife at the heart of the Vatican administration.

The cardinals have made it clear they want a quick conclave to make sure that they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations, the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.

Vatican insiders say the longer the general pre-discussions go on, the easier it should be to establish the best candidates for pope.

Source: Agencies