Papal conclave to start on Tuesday

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin rides his bicycle through St Peter's Square in the Vatican after a meeting at the Synod Hall. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin rides his bicycle through St Peter's Square in the Vatican after a meeting at the Synod Hall. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters


The conclave that will elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI will start next Tuesday, March 12th. 

Papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, made the announcement this afternoon with a brief communiqué that reads

“The eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday March 12th, 2013. A “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” mass will be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning. In the afternoon, the Cardinals will enter into the Conclave”.

At first glance, the date chosen looks like a reasonable compromise choice between those who wanted to anticipate the Conclave as much as possible 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 currently 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 tomorrow morning but not tomorrow afternoon.

Many believe that the cardinals in the Curia, the Holy See's bureaucracy, are in favour of a quick start because they have already identified their favoured candidate in the person of Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan.

Benedict (85), became the first pope in 600 years to abdicate when he stepped down, saying he no longer had the strength to lead the church.

Electing his successor, the 266th pope, involves a secret, centuries-old procedure that will offer few signs about the winner until white smoke wafts over St Peter's Square.

The new pope will inherit a church grappling over such issues as contraception and allowing a bigger role for women. Among his main tasks will be tackling priest sex abuse scandals and possible a reform of the Curia after leaked papal documents last year depicted a web of Vatican intrigue.

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