On Friday, the Vatican announced that the College of Cardinals will begin the papal conclave meeting to elect the next pope on Tuesday afternoon March 12 where all cardinals under 80 years old will be eligible to vote for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s successor leaving 115 cardinals to decide at the Sistine Chapel who will be the new leader of the Catholic Church. The cardinals will vote up to four times a day until two thirds which is 77 cardinals agree on the next pope. In the last conclave that lead to Benedict’s election in 2005, the vote only took two days because the cardinals agreed on the election however the conclave could last much longer if there is no consensus. According to the Vatican press office, “The eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday, 12 March 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.” Benedict changed the rules of the conclave before he resigned Feb. 28 allowing the cardinals to start it earlier than usual especially since these are special circumstances. The Cardinals have already met eight times since Monday to talk about church priories and pick a date, but the delay in deciding a date occurred because some cardinals had yet to arrive at the Vatican until the last three days. Even before the conclave, cardinals will continue to meet in General Congregations on Saturday and Monday. After the conclave begins on Tuesday, the cardinals will be guarded in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence, when not in conclave and will not be able to contact anyone outside the conclave including cell phones, media, and Internet.
Cardinals will cast four ballots each day that will be burned twice daily and the smoke from the Sistine Chapel will determine the outcome, with black smoke meaning no agreement has been reached and white smoke indicating a new leader has been chosen. As of yet, no clear front runner has emerged even though a handful of cardinals are rumored to be running, but according to Huff Post Italy on Friday two cardinals have been the focus of press this week which are Brazilian-born Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer and the Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola as well as two Americans, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, are also considered long-shot candidates. Several of the cardinals who will vote in the conclave and are potential pope candidates are from Europe. Lombardi on Friday also showed where the new pope will sleep his first night and for several weeks while the papal apartment where Benedict lived is renovated. The apartment was sealed after the resignation and church rules state it can’t be opened again until the new pope is elected.