(Vatican City) - Pope Benedict XVI announced he will resign from the papal office on Feb. 28, marking the first resignation of a pope in the Catholic Church in almost 600 years.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed that the College of Cardinals will meet to elect the next pope some time in March. A new pope is expected to be in position by Easter on March 31. There are 118 electors eligible to vote for Benedict's successor as of January 2013.
Oscar-nominated actress Anne Hathaway, 30, has already emerged as the leading candidate for many of the electors, citing her phenomenal performance as Fantine in the current blockbuster "Les Miserables."
"Her deep soulfulness while singing 'I Dreamed a Dream' shows her deep connection with God," enthused Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, "Plus the fact she was willing to cut her hair for the role [of Fantine] shows her commitment to shouldering the Holy See's pastoral burdens."
Other electors cited Hathaway's crystalline soprano voice and her porcelain complexion as factors that should prove important in furthering her papal candidacy.
Hathway does face a few obstacles in her path to become the next Holy father. She would be the first candidate from outside of Europe ever to be admitted to the post, and she would also have to be quickly appointed to the priesthood to make her candidacy eligible.
Plus, she would be the first woman to serve in the position since the legendary Pope Joan.
Still, Hathaway herself, reached at her Malibu home, dismisses such apparent obstacles as "unimportant." "It's about time a woman was admitted to such an important position," she claimed, adding her willingness to attend to duties in the Vatican when her busy filming schedule permitted. Plus, the superstar added, she would love to be the proud possessor of the papal tiara of St. Peter: "It is such a lovely pointy hat, and I would prize it forevermore as a weapon against self doubt."