Vatican City

Cardinals start putting out feelers in pre-conclave talks

Dolan calls for swift papal election, others want transparency

Cardinals start putting out feelers in pre-conclave talks

Vatican City, March 4 - The general congregation of cardinals started Monday at the Vatican, kicking off talks on the conclave to vote Benedict XVI's successor. Daily meetings in which the princes of the Church get to know one another and discuss issues facing Catholicism today will be held throughout the week until the voting process for a new pope begins inside the Sistine Chapel. Of the 115 cardinals eligible to cast votes, 103 were in Rome Monday. According to Church rules, a conclave cannot commence until all electors are present. The election process comes after Benedict stepped down after nearly eight years in office leading the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. He was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Speaking before the general congregation began Monday, New York Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan said that the conclave to elect a new pope will be brief and that cardinals 'will move quickly'. 'Our work this week will be very important,' he added. 'I want to speak with all of my fellow cardinals. I want to meet all of them, I want to understand them better. Many of them I only know from the books they've written'. A date for the conclave has yet to be announced, though the Church is expected to speed up the process in order to install a pope in time for Holy Week later this month. Dolan, considered a longshot candidate for pope, brushed off the possibility of ascending the throne of St Peter himself. 'Certainly an important job awaits me, but in New York,' he said. On the other hand, German Cardinal Walter Kasper said Monday he was opposed to rushing the conclave. 'We need time to get to know one another,' said Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. 'A papal election is not something you should rush'. Regardless of when the election process begins, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras believes that transparency is needed in the next papacy and that Benedict's 'clean-up' initiatives must go forward. 'I am convinced that the clean-up initiatives of (former Cardinal Joseph) Ratzinger have to continue because it is written in the Gospels that the truth shall set you free,' said Maradiaga, whom many have signalled as a possible candidate for pope. 'We must present a Church with a transparent face, one that is at peace and at ease'. Leading up to Benedict's abdication, Benedict had commissioned a 300-page, two-volume report on the so-called Vatileaks scandal, in which his own butler was arrested then pardoned for leaking secret Church documents of alleged corruption to the Italian press. Unsourced reports in Italian media in recent weeks have said that the report's findings were a final straw for Benedict to step down. While many Church watchers are predicting a new pope from the developing world, a senior Vatican figure said Monday that some non-Italian cardinals have asked for an Italian pope. 'I have heard rumors from non-Italian cardinals that express this wish. I would not put it as a priority, but it is a possibility,' said Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the Italian radio station RAI RadioUno. Whoever the new pope may be, one possibility was ruled out Monday when a fake bishop was unmasked after sneaking into the general congregation. The imposter's cassock was shorter than standard, the chain on his crucifix was unusual, and his purple episcopal sash turned out to be a scarf. But he still managed to blend in for some time with the more than 100 cardinals assembled from around the world outside the Paul XVI Hall of the Vatican. The phony, reportedly Australian, was eventually identified and kicked out, to the visible amusement of journalists nearby.

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