The countdown to the Conclave

Cardinals meet on Monday

Since Thursday 8:00 p.m., the Catholic Church is unshepherded, after Pope Benedict XVI., who was actually appointed Pope for life, has resigned the office. The cardinals of the Catholic Church were officially invited on Friday, to gather in Rome for the preparations regarding the Conclave.

The letters have been sent by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano. Because many Cardinals are already gathered in the Vatican, they should meet on Monday at 9:30 at the Vatican in the new Synod Hall, to prepare for the election of the new Pope. A second meeting is to be held on the same day at 5:00 pm.

According to the Vatican, 115 Cardinals are expected to take part in the Conclave. However, it is still fairly vague when it will begin. There are speculations it might start on March 11, exactly four weeks after Benedict’s historic resignation announcement. By no later than 20 days after the resignation the conclave must start in any case, as required by the regulations. That would be the 20th of March.

Long “pre-Conclave” expected

Anyway, there will still no date for the Conclave be announced on Monday, so the Vatican spokesman, father Federico Lombardi. According to Lombardi, a decision concerning the Conclave will not be made on the first day. Officially, it will not be decided until all eligible Cardinals arrived in Rome.

Core task of the College of Cardinals, is the preparation for the election of the new Pope. Sodano invited 208 Cardinals to the General Congregations in the Apostolic Palace, which will take place every day until the beginning of the Conclave. All cardinals participating in the General Congregation, must swear an oath on the Gospel, to respect the regulations and to practice secrecy.

One can only speculate how long the Conclave will take. A consent on the new Pope is expected by Easter. The longest Conclave in Church history, after the death of Clement IV in 1268, lasted two years, nine months and two days (1,005 days). Benedict XVI. was elected on April 19 2005, only one day after the beginning of the Conclave.

No clear favorite

So far, there are no clear favourites for the choice of the Pope according to Italian media, and the Cardinals take care not to position themself as such. Because an old Roman saying warns about campaigning, even indiscreetly, to become pope or even trying to predict the outcome of conclaves: “He who enters a conclave as pope, exits as a cardinal.”

A strong candidate is for sure the Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola. His candidacy will not only be supported by a large part of the Italian Cardinals, but also from several foreign Cardinals. The Canadian candidate Cardinal Marc Oullet might also have a good chance to be elected.

Names, such as the Brazilians of German descent Odilo Pedro Scherer and his countryman Joao Braz de Aviz are circulating among Latin American Cardinals. The Hungarian Primate Peter Erdo, head of the European Bishops, is considert an alternative. In general, observers expect once more the appointment of an European Pope, as the Conclave is still dominated by European Cardinals (60 of the 115 participating cardinals are Europeans, of which 28 are Italian).

The Emeritus Pope, the Sede Vacante and the new media


Until the appointment of the new Pope, there is also an “empty chair” on the Twitter account of the Pope. In the channel “@Pontifex“, the profile picture of the 85-year-old German was replaced by the emblem of the Holy See and the name was changed to “Sede vacante”. All Tweets from Benedict were archived. The account is to rest, until the new Pope has decided whether he would continue tweeting on the same channel.

3 thoughts on “The countdown to the Conclave

  1. Possible popes


    • Media image is a bigger factor than ever.
    • They will not risk a cardinal who is too old.
    • They will not risk electing a pope whose reign might be too long (that was learned from John Paul II’s 27-year stint).
    • They are unlikely to consider a candidate from USA – US Catholic Church seen as doctrinally “unreliable” in some areas. Also the glad-handing power presentation of some leading US prelates (e.g., Timothy Dolan, New York) might sit ill in Vatican circles.
    • The sentiment for a pope from the developing world might be cancelled out by incompatibilities between parts of that world: e.g., South Americans might not accept an Asian or African.
    • Various media pundits suggest candidates who, for reasons of age, limited experience or low profile, are extremely unlikely in my view. I have noted them, but do not discuss them here except where they are apparently strongly or widely predicted as contenders.
    • They will probably want a “general” to lead them firmly, not a theologian or bureaucrat. A record of pastoral experience will likely be a factor.
    • There is no expressed preference for an Italian, but being Italian, or having Italian background and/or familiarity with the Vatican Curia will be favoured.
    • Given that all but one or two cardinals were appointed by one of the last two popes, orthodoxy will be a requirement. Media speculation about “progressives” is nonsense.

    Turkson, Peter, Ghana 64

    Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is said to be “a 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 (cf some of Benedict XVI’s remarks and resulting controversy).

    In my view too young (they might be stuck with him too long), and too much of a “media personality”. Not much substance in Church doctrine or governance.

    Media comment that he might be seen by some cardinal electors as the “Peter” in St Malachy’s prophecy is nonsense.

    Arinze, Francis Nigeria 80

    A leading papabile in 2005, but now too old (too old even to attend the Conclave). That the media still write about him as a leading contender – and the bookies had him initially on very short odds – seems uninformed.

    Tagle, Luis Antonio Philippines 55

    Only made cardinal 2012. At 55, too young. Charismatic, perhaps, but little substance or experience. Some standing as a theologian, but little else.

    Sandri, Leonardo Argentina 69

    Prefect of Congregation of Oriental Churches (which carries little prestige). Sandri is noted as a Latin American of Italian heritage – but then, so is Bergoglio.

    Ouellet, Marc Canada 68

    Prefect, Congregation for Bishops. Concurrently president of the Commission for Latin America, which could be important. Worked in Colombia, fluent Spanish.
    Archbishop of Quebec (however NB that Quebec increasingly secular in recent times) and Primate of Canada.

    Scola, Angelo Italy 71

    Archbishop of Milan since 2011, formerly Patriarch of Venice.
    He has urged the church to do more to appeal to the modern world, arguing it needs to build on Vatican 2. An “ardent believer” in the Church’s role at the centre of society, Scola has publicly bemoaned the Vatican’s inability to clearly communicate its message on matters such as marriage (however, he is known for a fairly dense personal communication style).
    NB, he is not advocating change; rather “better communication”, whatever that means.
    He is an expert on bioethics. He also has some positive record in interface with Islam.
    My view is that being Italian may give him some advantage in terms of a Curia longing for an Italian pope. On the other hand, there is strong sentiment – in the media, perhaps rather than in the College of Cardinals, that the next pope should be other than European.

    Bergoglio, Jorge SJ Argentina 76

    As cardinal, Bergoglio appointed to several administrative positions in the Roman Curia. He served on the Congregation of Clergy, Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacraments, Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Congregation of Societies of Apostolic Life. Bergoglio became a member of the Commission on Latin American and the Family Council.
    Known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle has contributed to his reputation for humility. He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals (this is all good media stuff).
    Bergoglio was considered papabile in 2005. Participated in the late Pope’s funeral, and acted as a regent governing the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church during the sede vacante period.
    During the 2005 Synod of Bishops, he was elected member of the Post-Synodal council. It was reported that Bergoglio had been a frontrunner in the 2005 Conclave. An unauthorized diary of uncertain authenticity released in September 2005 further affirmed that Bergogolio was the runner-up and main challenger of Ratzinger during the conclave. The purported diary of the anonymous cardinal claimed Bergoglio received 40 votes during the third ballot, but fell back to 26 at the fourth and decisive ballot.
    My expectation then was that Ratzinger would be the power broker, and would probably engineer Bergoglio’s election. Instead, he took it for himself. This time Bergoglio is close to being too old; however, his Italian heritage and the fact that he is well known and respected in the Curia, and that he was so prominent in the last conclave, still make him eminently papabile.

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