Cardinals Set Tuesday As Start Date For Conclave

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VATICAN CITY
(AP) — Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to
elect the next pope, a milestone in this unusual papal transition and
an indication that even without an obvious front-runner, the cardinals
have a fairly good idea of who best among them can lead the Catholic
Church and tackle its many problems.

The
conclave date was set on Friday afternoon during a vote by the College
of Cardinals who have been meeting all week to discuss the church's
problems and priorities and the qualities a new pope must possess.

Tuesday
will begin with a morning Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, followed by a
solemn procession into the Sistine Chapel and the first round of secret
balloting in the afternoon.

Only one vote is
held the first afternoon. If black smoke is sent snaking out of the
chapel chimney to indicate there is no immediate victor, the cardinals
will retire for the day. They will return Wednesday for two rounds of
balloting in the morning, two rounds in the afternoon until a pope has
been chosen.

In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.

That
said, there doesn't appear to be a front-runner in this election for a
successor to the retired Benedict XVI, and the past week of
deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of
the pressing problems facing the church, including of governance within
the Holy See itself.

U.S. Cardinal Timothy
Dolan, considered a papal contender, said in a blog post Friday that
most of the discussions in the closed-door meetings covered preaching
and teaching the Catholic faith, tending to Catholic schools and
hospitals, protecting families and the unborn, supporting priests “and
getting more of them!”

“Those are the `big
issues,'” he wrote. “You may find that hard to believe, since the `word
on the street' is that all we talk about is corruption in the Vatican,
sexual abuse, money. Do these topics come up? Yes! Do they dominate?
No!”

Early in the week, the Americans had been
pressing for more time to get to the bottom of the level of dysfunction
and corruption in the Holy See's governance that was exposed by the
leaks of papal documents last year. But by Thursday afternoon, Cardinal
Roger Mahony of Los Angeles tweeted that the discussions were “reaching a
conclusion” and that a mood of “excitement” was taking hold.

Vatican-based
cardinals had been angling for a speedy end to the discussions, perhaps
to limit the amount of dirty laundry being aired.

A
Tuesday start date could be read as something of a compromise. Monday
had been seen as an obvious choice to start the conclave to ensure a
pope would be elected and installed by Sunday, March 17, the last Sunday
before Holy Week begins.

American and some
German cardinals had argued that the time for discernment should come
during the pre-conclave meetings, when there is more time for discussion
and information-gathering.

Once the conclave
begins, there is actually very little time for discussion since the
proceedings are conducted in an atmosphere of silent prayer. The
Americans had argued for more consultation time so the conclave itself
doesn't drag on.

The Vatican spokesman, the
Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pre-conclave meetings had served to
give cardinals a chance to discuss the “profile, characteristics,
qualities and talents” a future pope must have.

“Obviously
the cardinals must arrive at this moment with all the information that
is useful to make a judgment on such an important issue,” he said. “The
preparation is absolutely fundamental.”

According
to Vatican analysts and even some cardinals themselves, the list of
papabili, or those considered to have the stuff to be pope, remains
relatively unchanged from when Benedict XVI first announced he would
resign Feb. 28, kick-starting the papal transition. But some Italian
media have speculated that with governance such a key issue in this
conclave, the cardinals might also be considering an informal
pope-secretary of state “ticket.”

The Vatican
secretary of state is primarily responsible for running the Holy See,
but it's not an elected job like the pope. It's a papal appointment, and
will be a very closely watched papal appointment this time around given
the stakes.

Also Friday, the cardinals
formally agreed to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the
conclave who in past weeks had signaled they wouldn't come: Cardinal
Julius Darmaatjadja, emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and
Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned last week after admitting
to inappropriate sexual misconduct.

That
formality brings the number of cardinal electors to 115; two thirds of
which – or 77 votes – is required for victory. Benedict in 2007 changed
the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds requirement throughout the
voting process after Pope John Paul II decreed that after about 12 days
of inconclusive balloting the threshold could switch to a simple
majority.

By reverting back to the traditional
two-thirds requirement, Benedict was apparently aiming to ensure a
consensus candidate emerges quickly and ruling out the possibility that
cardinals might hold out until the simple majority kicks in to push
through their candidate. His decision might prove prescient, given the
apparent lack of a front-runner in this conclave.

Lombardi
said a few items of business remain outstanding, including drawing lots
for rooms at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel, where the cardinals will
be sequestered once the conclave begins.

On
Friday, he showed a video of the room in which the new pope will spend
his first night as pontiff; it features a bed with a heavy, dark wood
headboard featuring a carved image of Christ's face. There is also a
sitting area and a study.

The pope is expected
to stay there for a few weeks even after the election, since the papal
apartment in the Apostolic Palace must be renovated. The apartment was
sealed Feb. 28, just after Benedict resigned, and cannot be reopened
until the new pope formally takes possession of it.

Lombardi
explained that after an eight-year papacy, certain plumbing and
maintenance work that had been put off must be carried out – work that
cannot begin, however, until the seal on the doors is broken.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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