Cardinals have set March 12 as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope.
The date was set on Friday afternoon during a vote by the College of Cardinals.
Tuesday will begin with a Mass in the morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.
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, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including governance within the Holy See itself.
US 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, and 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 were 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.
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 February 28.
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 signalled 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; a two-thirds majority — or 77 votes — is required for victory.
Benedict in 2007 changed the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds majority requirement throughout the voting process after Pope John Paul II had 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 majority, 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 sleep 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 February 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 electric maintenance work that had been put off must be carried out — work that cannot begin, however, until the seal on the doors is broken.
There are no official candidates in the election for pope, which will begin when 115 cardinal electors file into the Sistine Chapel for their conclave.
The cardinals will stay in the conclave, cut off from the outside world, until they elect a successor to Pope Benedict. Conclaves usually last about three days.
Several names are frequently mentioned in Rome as ‘‘papabile’’ (potential popes); they are listed here:
- Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America’s liberation theology, but not the excesses of some of its advocates. Possible drawbacks include his low profile.
- Timothy Dolan (USA, 63) became the voice of US Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing. But cardinals are wary of a ‘‘superpower pope’’ and his back-slapping style may be too American for some.
- Peter Erdo (Hungary, 60) ranks as a possible compromise candidate if the conclave’s European majority do not back an Italian but are wary of a pope from overseas. His two terms as head of a European bishops council and strong links with African church leaders could garner strong support from two important voting blocs.
- Sean O’Malley (USA, 68) has been touted as a ‘‘clean hands’’ candidate since he was named to three US dioceses in a row to settle sexual abuse scandals. Appointed to Boston in 2003 after a major crisis there, he sold off archdiocesan properties and prompted protests by closing down little-used churches.
- Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican’s top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope ‘‘would be a nightmare’’. Though well connected within the Curia, the widespread secularism of his native Quebec could hurt him and even friends say he is not charismatic.
- Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile could hurt him if cardinals decide they need an experienced pastor rather than another professor like Benedict as pope.
- Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a ‘‘transatlantic’’ figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007. But he has no pastoral experience and his job overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome.
- Odilo Scherer (Brazil, 63) ranks as Latin America’s strongest candidate. Archbishop of Sao Paulo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere. The rapid growth of Protestant churches in Brazil could count against him.
- Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 68) is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the retired pontiff lacked. The Vienna archbishop has been a rising star since editing the Church’s catechism in the 1990s. But some cautious stands on reform and strong dissent by some Austrian priests could hurt him.
- Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians’ bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
- Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul. He was also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission. He has many fans in the Church but only got his red hat in 2012. Conclaves can be wary of young popes who could have long reigns.
- Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the church’s social conscience and backs world financial reform. He showed a video criticising Muslims at a recent Vatican synod, raising doubts about how he sees Islam.