There is no front- runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to fix the church's many problems.
On the eve of the vote, cardinals offered wildly different assessments of what they were looking for in the next pontiff and how close they were to a decision.
It was evidence that Benedict XVI's surprise resignation has continued to destabilise the church leadership and that his final appeal for unity may go unheeded, at least in early voting.
Cardinals held their final closed-door debate yesterday over whether the church needs a manager to clean up the Vatican's bureaucratic mess or a pastor to inspire the 1.2 billion faithful in times of crisis. Not everyone got a chance to speak.
"This time around, there are many different candidates, so it's normal that it's going to take longer than the last time," Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Chile said.
"There are no groups, no compromises, no alliances, just each one with his conscience voting for the person he thinks is best."
None of that has prevented a storm of chatter over who is ahead.
The buzz swirled around Cardinal Angelo Scola, an Italian seen as favoured by cardinals hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian cardinal Odilo Scherer, a favourite of Vatican insiders intent on preserving the status quo.