BRUSSELS, Belgium — Cardinals have begun meeting to decide who should be the next pope.
Preliminary talks began in Vatican City today, ahead of the conclave at which the world’s top Roman Catholic officials will elect Pope Benedict XVI‘s successor.
The College of Cardinals will now meet every day before the conclave begins, which is expected to be sometime next week.
Their deliberations will be kept strictly confidential. Today’s session began with an oath of secrecy, according to the BBC, while technicians have been checking the cardinals’ lodgings for bugging devices. During the conclave itself, all cell phones will be banned.
A total of 113 cardinals from around the world are expected to take part in the election. (One hundred and fifteen are eligible, but British Cardinal Keith O’Brien has resigned amid scandal, while Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia is unwell.)
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According to one cardinal, who wrote on condition of anonymity to Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, the new pope should be not too old or too young. He should be in good physical health, but not likely to reign for 30 years.
So likely candidates should be older than 58, the age when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became pope John Paul II in 1978, but younger than Joseph Ratzinger who was appointed Benedict XVI at the age of 77.
The ideal age for the papabile cardinals is thought to be 65-70.
The new pope should be a good communicator able to reach out to the faithful around the world, but also be fully clued in on the complex internal mechanisms of the Curia — the Vatican’s civil service — which is reported to be riven with rivalries undermining unity at the top of the church.
Milan’s Cardinal Angelo Scola, 72, is many people’s favorite and is seen as a consummate a Vatican insider. Other Italians in the running include Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78.
If the conclave looks outside Europe, there are three cardinals in the running from Brazil — the world’s biggest Catholic country, but some insiders are betting on Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the cardinal of Buenos Aires, although at 76, he may be too old for some.
Canada’s Marc Ouellet, 67, is popular in Latin America where he worked many years.
The bookies’ favorite is still Peter Turkson, 64, the cardinal from Ghana who would be the first pope from sub-Saharan Africa.
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power’s frontrunners are Turkson on 3/1, Scola and Bertone on 7/2, and Ouellet on 9/1.
The exact date for the conclave won’t be decided until all participants are in Rome. Only 12 cardinals have not yet arrived; they are due to do so by tomorrow morning at the latest, Vatican Radio said.
According to Agence France-Presse, Italian media speculates that the election process will begin next Monday, March 11.
That would give the cardinals around two weeks to agree on a candidate if, as the Vatican wishes, the Church is to have a new pope in time for Easter.
“We’re going to take as much time as we need to think about what sort of pope the Church needs now,” French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told AFP. “The new pope will certainly have to confront problems within the Curia,” or church government.
Whoever the pope turns out to be, his papal outfit is waiting for him: the Associated Press reports that three new white papal cassocks have already been made up – in small, medium and large – so that the new pope has something to wear as soon as he is named.