Vatican City

Cardinals set for talks ahead of conclave

Rules laid down by John Paul, tweaked by Benedict

Cardinals set for talks ahead of conclave

Vatican City, March 1 - As the sun set on Benedict XVI's eight-year reign Thursday, cardinals were already looking towards the conclave that will elect the successor to the first pope to abdicate in 600 years. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals on Friday summoned cardinals for the first in a series of talks Monday morning ahead of the secret electoral gathering in the Sistine Chapel. The date for the conclave may not be set Monday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Friday. Observers expect it to come around March 10-11, after Benedict issued a last-minute decree waiving the mandatory 15-day waiting period after the end of a papal reign. More than half, 67, of the cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict and the remaining 50 by his predecessor John Paul II. The 117 are now down to 115 after Indonesia's retired Archbishop of Jakarta, Julius Darmaatjadja, pulled out because of illness and Britain's top official, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland, resigned over allegations of "inappropriate" behaviour with priests. A majority of the cardinals, 59, are European, and 28 Italian, raising the chances of the first Italian pope since the short-lived John Paul I, who ruled from 26 August 1978 until his death 33 days later. But some Vatican watchers think the time might be ripe for the first African pope. In 2007 Benedict changed the rules for the first time so that a two-thirds majority instead of simple majority would be required for electing a new pope. Traditionally, the process of electing a new pope begins in the morning with a special mass, 'Pro Eligendo Papa', in St Peter's Basilica. In the afternoon, the cardinals who have gathered from all over the world assemble in the basilica's 'Aula della Benedizione' to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit by singing the Latin hymn Veni Creator (Come Holy Spirit). They then proceed to the Sistine Chapel, where they begin the process of choosing the pope's successor. This highly secretive meeting under Michelangelo's famous frescoed ceiling is known as the conclave, from the Latin cum clave, which means literally 'with-key', because in the past cardinals were often locked into a room while the voting was going on. Nowadays they are not going to be locked into the Sistine Chapel but, in the interests of secrecy, they will be confined to the Vatican and contact with the outside world will be cut to a minimum. Only cardinals, the 'princes' of the Church, can vote for popes. Paul VI excluded cardinals over 80 from the election and limited electors to 120. The latest major legislation on conclaves is in the apostolic constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' (The Lord's Whole Flock), published by Pope John Paul in 1996. It confirmed the limit of 120 cardinals. 'Universi Dominici Gregis' forbids electioneering and deal-making. It says: "The cardinal electors shall abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind." "(They are) not to allow themselves to be friendship or aversion, or to be influenced by favor or personal relationships towards anyone, or to be constrained by the interference of persons in authority or by pressure groups, by the suggestions of the mass media, or by force, fear or the pursuit of popularity." Each elector writes the name of his chosen candidate on his ballot paper under the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem (I elect as supreme pontiff). He then walks to the altar and slides his slip in the ballot box saying: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one whom I think should be elected." There are four ballots per day and, at least to begin with, a majority of two thirds of the votes is required. If no one has been chosen after three days, there is a pause of up to one day for prayer, "informal discussion among the voters," and a brief spiritual exhortation by the senior cardinal-deacon. At this point, the so-called "great electors" - cardinals good at negotiating agreements and organizing voting blocs - come into their own. After the pause, voting continues for another seven ballots, followed by another pause, seven more ballots, and so on, until there have been up to 30 ballots extending over 10 or 12 days. At this point a new rule created by John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis kicks in. The chamberlain is to invite the cardinals to "express an opinion about the manner of proceeding" - and the election will then go forward as the majority decides. One way to get a majority quickly, the document points out, is to vote on the two candidates who got the most votes in the previous round. If there was deadlock and the process became protracted, cardinals would have been able to go for a simple majority of 50% plus one - before Benedict's insistence on a two-thirds majority. John Paul introduced the simple majority as a way of trying to hasten elections, but Benedict, an even bigger traditionalist than his predecessor, changed the bar back to 66% because he felt any pope needed as much legitimation as possible, for a stronger mandate. As the name conclave suggests, secrecy is a paramount consideration throughout the process and the last two popes came up with several new rules to preserve it. Security specialists will check the Sistine for bugs. The cardinals are not to communicate with anyone outside. Nor are they allowed access to phones, both mobile and landlines, newspapers, radio or TV. Despite the Vatican's recent opening to social media, including Facebook and Twitter, the Internet is also strictly off limits. photo: Sodano with Benedict

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