Catholic cardinals gathered in Rome voted Friday to begin the conclave, to elect a new pope next Tuesday afternoon, the Vatican said. The 115 cardinal-electors taking part in the conclave will enter the closed-door process after a morning Mass and only cardinals younger than 80 are eligible to vote.
The cardinals voted Friday morning to accept the letters of explanation of two cardinal-electors who are eligible to vote for the next pope but will not attend the conclave: Keith O'Brien of Scotland and Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia. Darmaatmadja cited health reasons, and O'Brien cited personal reasons.
O'Brien resigned in scandal last week after allegations that he made sexual advances toward young men studying to be priests. He apologized in a statement Sunday, saying, There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.
Since Monday, the cardinals have been uniting for what are known as General Congregations, a series of meetings in which they discuss the issues facing the church.
These include how to tackle the issue of child sex abuse by priests and a scandal over leaks from the Vatican last year that revealed claims of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.
The chimney used to send up the smoke signals that announce whether or not a new pope has been elected could be raised over the Sistine Chapel on Friday, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
The voting takes place inside the chapel, beneath the ornate ceiling painted by Michelangelo. The building was closed to tourists Tuesday and will remain so for the foreseeable future, the Vatican said.
The cardinals have sworn an oath of secrecy. Nonetheless, the Vatican is taking no chances. An electronic shield will be put up around the conclave to prevent the use of mobile phones and other devices that might allow communication with the outside world.
However all this has not prevented the participants from asking to know the contents of a confidential report which Benedict XVI commissioned on alleged financial and sexual crimes in the Roman Catholic Church, even though the week before last the Vatican said the report’s contents were for the new pope’s eyes only.
American Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo expressed a thirst for insight: “Obviously, we want to know and learn as much as we can relative to governance in the Church, and the Curia is part of that issue. So, certainly we want to discuss and learn what we can, and I think that will go on as long as the cardinals feel they need the information.”
The scandal known as Vatileaks allegedly brought to light corruption in the Vatican. The Americans had access to insider knowledge when Carlo Maria Vigano was sent to Washington as the Vatican City’s ambassador. He wrote to Benedict to complain he felt ostracised for having revealed information about contract-fixing in the Curia, the administrative apparatus of the Holy See and governing body of the whole Church.
Europe has just one quarter of the world’s Catholics. The highest number is in North, Central and South America. Almost as many Africans are Catholics as Europeans, according to percentages shown on the Vatican website. Brazil has more than any other country.
More than half the cardinals heading into the papal election conclave are European, 59. But non-European votes will be decisive. The successful candidate needs a two-thirds majority of at least 77 in his favour out of 115 “cardinal electors”.