VATICAN CITY (CBS/AP) — Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope, signaling that they were wrapping up a week of discussions about the problems of the church and who best among them might lead it.

The conclave date was set this afternoon during a vote by the College of Cardinals.

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KYW’s John McDevitt reports that the cardinals will turn in their smartphones and laptops and go into isolation to make their decision, signaling their progress in the traditional way: smoke.

“When they get to the two-thirds majority, the smoke comes out white,” explains Dr. Leonard Swidler, who teaches Modern Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University.   The color of the smoke is controlled by the addition of chemicals to the fire.

Swidler thinks reform is needed now in the Catholic Church, and electing the new leader will be a challenging task.

He points out that the cardinals in the conclave were appointed over the years by ultra-conservative popes, “so the chances are that there will be a lot of tugging toward  a very conservative side.   But the turmoil outside is going to cause a lot of the moderate conservatives to be concerned about not moving so far to the right that they will exacerbate the problem.”

In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.


Tuesday will begin with a mass in the morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.

Today, there doesn’t appear to be a front-runner in this election, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including of governance within the Holy See itself.

US cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, considered a papal contender, said in a blog post today that most of the discussions in the closed-door meetings covered preaching and teaching the Catholic faith, tending to Catholic schools and hospitals, protecting families and the unborn, and supporting priests “and getting more of them!”

“Those are the ‘big issues,’ ” he wrote. “You may find that hard to believe, since the ‘word on the street’ is that all we talk about is corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money.  Do these topics come up? Yes!  Do they dominate? No!”

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Early in the week, the Americans had been pressing for more time to get to the bottom of the level of dysfunction and corruption in the Holy See’s governance that were exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year.

But by yesterday afternoon, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles tweeted that the discussions were “reaching a conclusion” and that a mood of “excitement” was taking hold.

Vatican-based cardinals had been angling for a speedy end to the discussions, perhaps to limit the amount of dirty laundry being aired.

According to Vatican analysts and even some cardinals themselves, the list of papabili, or those considered to have the stuff to be pope, remains relatively unchanged from when Benedict XVI first announced on February 28th he would resign.

But some Italian media have speculated that with governance such a key issue in this conclave, the cardinals might also be considering an informal pope-secretary of state “ticket.”

The Vatican secretary of state is primarily responsible for running the Holy See, but it’s not an elected job like the pope. It’s a papal appointment, and will be a very closely watched papal appointment this time around, given the stakes.

Also today, the cardinals formally agreed to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the conclave who in past weeks had signaled they wouldn’t come: Cardinal Julius Darmaatjadja, emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned last week after admitting to inappropriate sexual misconduct.

That formality brings the number of cardinal electors to 115; a two-thirds majority—or 77 votes—is required for victory.

Benedict in 2007 changed the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds majority requirement throughout the voting process after Pope John Paul II had decreed that after about 12 days of inconclusive balloting the threshold could switch to a simple majority.

By reverting back to the traditional two-thirds majority, Benedict was apparently aiming to ensure a consensus candidate emerges quickly and ruling out the possibility that cardinals might hold out until the simple majority kicks in to push through their candidate.

His decision might prove prescient, given the apparent lack of a front-runner in this conclave.

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