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Cardinal Ouellet responds: His province has long been at the forefront of the freedom of choice fight.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

As cardinals from around the world gather in Rome for closed-door meetings before choosing a successor to Benedict XVI, Canada's Marc Ouellet is reluctantly acknowledging that he has to be prepared for the possibility that he could become the next pontiff.

In an interview he gave to the CBC, Cardinal Ouellet was asked about the fact that he is considered a front-runner to be the next successor of Saint Peter.

The 68-year-old Quebecker paused and had a long sigh before answering cautiously.

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"I have to be ready even if I think that probably others could do it better," Cardinal Ouellet said. "We have to be, to some extent, prepared."

He alluded to the old saying that the man who enters the conclave already anointed pope is usually the one who will leave still a cardinal.

"My name is circulating, but I am very careful to go beyond this sort of media expectations."

The first part of the interview with CBC television airs Monday night after 10 p.m ET. The broadcaster said it was the only outlet among 122 news organizations who approached the cardinal to be granted an interview.

Cardinal Ouellet has been touted as a top contender ever since Benedict XVI's surprise announcement last month that he is stepping down.

With the Roman Catholic church being more dynamic in Latin America and Africa these days, there have been speculations that the conclave might pick a non-European cardinal.

A Vatican insider who can speak five languages and has been a seminary teacher in Colombia, Cardinal Ouellet is said to be well-liked and respected by his Latin American brethren.

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However, his sole pastoral experience, as archbishop of Quebec City, was marked by controversy. His comments against gay marriage and abortion (he called it a moral crime, even after rape) created an uproar in his now ultra-secular home province According to the Vatican, 117 of the 207 members of the College of Cardinals are under 80 and eligible to vote for the next pope.

However, Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien was forced to resign last week for sexual misconduct. Another cardinal, Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia, said poor health and failing eyesight will prevent him from taking part in the vote.

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