Some 115 Catholic cardinals will gather into the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel tomorrow, and after a loud call – ‘Extra Omnes’ (all others out) – the massive doors will close as the conclave to elect a new pope begins.
The vote will be preceded by Mass on Tuesday morning, with the first ballot due in the afternoon, the Vatican press office said. However, behind-the-scenes Vatican observers indicate that the cardinals may be planning to break with tradition and elect a new pope, willing to confront the over 2,000-year old Church’s troubles. The last conclave in 2005 took three days after eight days of general meetings between the princes of the church.
There have been 10 mostly contentious meetings this time, something correspondents believe is a reflection of a changing mood among the cardinals. Despite the vows of secrecy, Italian newspapers have been awash with leaks, including debates among cardinals on problems faced by the Church. Indeed, unlike their predecessors, this crop of cardinals is more tech savvy than most Catholics suspect.
In attempting to temper the expectations, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote on his blog that the meetings had not been dominated by scandal.
“You may find that hard to believe, since the “word on the street” is that all we talk is about corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money. Do these topics come up? Yes! Do they dominate? No!”
Instead Cardinal Dolan said the discussions covered preaching and teaching the Catholic faith, tending to Catholic schools and hospitals, protecting families and the unborn, and supporting and recruiting priests. However, he did not dismiss the sentiments first raised by Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who publicly criticized Pope Benedict’s resignation as a sign of his failing leadership.
His criticism led to a call by the cardinals that the next pontiff must be prepared to serve for life and should indicate this in his inaugural address to the world. The Italian daily La Stampa has also indicated that the cardinals are intent on a future papacy that will reform the curia – the Vatican cabinet that sanctions most of the pope’s activities, as well as the scandal-ridden Vatican bank. It is understood that the cardinals favour a more collegial papacy, in which they have more say.
The 115 red-capped prelates will vote repeatedly until one man receives two-thirds of the vote. They must indicate their decisions at the end of the day by releasing smoke – black for an undecided conclave and white for a new pope. The winner of the poll will then be asked to accept the position and, if he does, he will be revealed to the thousands of waiting pilgrims outside, in St Peter’s square.
The cardinals have made no secret of their desire to have a new pope in time for Easter - not least so they can return to their own dioceses. One German cardinal, Paul Josef Cordes, who is in fact based in the Vatican, was quoted as telling Bild newspaper: “I would compare [conclave] with a visit to the dentist - you want to get everything over with quickly.”
Despite Cardinal Cordes’ sentiments, this could be a longer conclave than the one that elected Pope Benedict. Several cardinals, including Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl have told Italian daily La Stampa, that the relative openness of the conversations between the cardinals indicates it will be longer. “There doesn’t seem to be a cardinal going into the conclave that everybody says is clearly going to be the Pope,” he said. “So, I think it is going to take a little while. How little or how long, that’s all in the hands of God.”
However, the most popular speculation has settled on two cardinals as likely to ascend to the papacy. The reformist Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, who has indicated he wants changes in the way the Roman curia is run, as well Odilo Pedro Scherer, the archbishop of Sao Paulo in Brazil. Both Scola and Scherer are known favourites of Pope Benedict. But other observers say once inside the Sistine chapel, anything could happen.