Cardinals prepare to elect new pope

Race to succeed Benedict XVI remains wide open

The talking is over, it is now time to vote. The Cardinals this morning held their tenth and last "Congregazione Generale" prior to going into Conclave tomorrow afternoon to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

At the end of an intense week of discussion when 161 Cardinals made speeches about various aspects of the problems and challenges currently facing the Catholic Church, the "Princes of the Church" now face the ballot box in the Sistine Chapel. Papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the final session was especially lively with some Cardinals still anxious to make a fresh contribution.

In the end, however, a majority of the Cardinals felt that the time for talking was over and that they should use this afternoon as a time of meditation and reflection on the important choice they are about to make. Thus there was no afternoon “congregation”.

Significantly, one of the last matters on the Cardinals agenda was the Vatican Bank, IOR, at the centre of much speculation for its failure to meet all the European Council 's Moneyval committee requirements with regard to money laundering. The Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone outlined the current state of affairs in the Bank but it was not known whether or not his audience had been reassured by his presentation.


This afternoon, the final Conclave preparations took place when about 90 people, concerned with guaranteeing the logistics of the Conclave swore an oath of secrecy. These people include the servants and waitors in the Domus Santa Marta in the Vatican where all 115 elector Cardinals stay, sealed off from the rest of the world with no radio, TV or electronic contact with outside.

Others who are required to swear an oath this afternoon include the technicians, nurses, doctors, Swiss Guards, bus drivers and religious helpers who are all present in and around the Sistine Chapel throughout the Conclave. The drivers take the Cardinals on the short uphill drive from Santa Marta to a side entrance into the Sistine, whilst the Swiss Guards act as security with doctors and nurses on hand to provide medical assistance to any Cardinal who falls ill. Given that the average age of the Cardinals is 72, such a possibility is not beyond belief.

Even though Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, both promoted by the powerful Italian/Curia block, are widely considered to be the leading candidates, this remains a wide open Conclave. Unlike five years when the Curia had a candidate in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "up and running", this time the picture is much less clear with up to a dozen potential papabili in the field.

Tomorrow’s first vote is most unlikely to produce a new Pope but it may at least identify the leading contenders. That “identification”, however, will be known only to the Cardinals and not to the outside world. For the Princes of the Church, “mum” is the word.