Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope.
The Vatican press office said the decision was taken during a vote afternoon of the College of Cardinals.
Tuesday will begin with a mass in the morning, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.
There is no 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.
Early in the week, the Americans were pressing for more time to get to the bottom of the level of dysfunction and corruption exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year. But by yesterday, 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.
US Cardinal Timothy Dolan, considered a papal contender, said in a blog post today 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!”
According to Vatican analysts and even some cardinal, the list of papabili, or those considered to have the stuff to be pope, remains relatively unchanged from when Benedict XVI announced he would resign on 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 role.
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 appointment this time around given the stakes.
The cardinals also formally agreed to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the conclave who in past weeks had signalled they would not come: Cardinal Julius Darmaatjadja, emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned last week after admitting 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 John Paul II decreed that after about 12 days of inconclusive balloting the threshold could switch to a simple majority.
By reverting 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.