Conclave to select new pope will begin on Tuesday, says Vatican
At the end of a week of increasingly febrile speculation, the Holy See yesterday announced that the conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI will start on Tuesday.
At lunchtime yesterday, papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi had suggested that given that all the cardinals were now in Rome, yesterday evening’s “congregation” of them would almost certainly settle on a date.
A “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” Mass will be celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica” on Tuesday morning, he said in a statement.
“In the afternoon, the cardinals will enter into the conclave”.
At first glance, the date chosen looks like a reasonable compromise between those who wanted to bring forward the conclave and those who wanted to wait until the scheduled start date of March 15th.
For the time being, the cardinals will continue to meet in their daily “congregations” where they have discussed many of the challenges facing the church. Traditionally, these discussions play a crucial role in defining the choice of next pontiff, perhaps making the laborious voting procedure in the Sistine Chapel run a little more smoothly.
The cardinals meet again in congregation this morning but not this evening nor tomorrow, when many of them will celebrate Mass in their titular Rome churches.
From the moment Benedict issued a papal decree on February 25th which essentially changed the conclave rules, an early conclave has seemed a strong possibility.
Given that this time there was no nine-day period of mourning following the death of a pope, and given also that many of the elector cardinals have been in Rome for more than a week now, an early start seemed logical.
And with Palm Sunday just two weeks away, many of the cardinals are keen to get the new pope elected in time for him to celebrate Holy Week and Easter ceremonies.
Many feel nothing could be more appropriate than that the new pope’s first major public engagements would see him celebrate the most solemn liturgical moment in the church calendar – the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Vatican observers, however, suggest that the early start also indicates the strong hold that the Holy See curia have on this interregnum narrative.
They argue that the curia, in particular the secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone, were keen to persuade Benedict to make the last-minute conclave rule changes.
It remains to be seen if an early conclave start will mean a short conclave. However, given the widespread dissatisfaction amongst many local church cardinals about the governance of the church, as illustrated by the Vatileaks affair, it may be a long one.
Many cardinals still want to hear details of the in-house investigation by three elderly cardinals into Vatileaks.
And the powerful Italian lobby – there are 28 Italian elector cardinals out of the 115 – is reportedly divided between two candidates, the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, and the Archbishop of São Paolo, Cardinal Odilo Peter Scherer.