The conclave, Latin for “with a key,” is a process in which voting-age cardinals are shut in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope. “I’m asked when it will be 10 times a day, at least,” said the somewhat exasperated Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi.
The timing matters, not just for news organizations but for the cardinals, who bear the responsibility of picking a leader with the best chance of addressing the monumental challenges facing the church.
“A shorter time span before the conclave starts favors the well-known faces,” said John Thavis, a longtime church reporter and the author of “The Vatican Diaries.” Because cardinals rarely assemble as a single body, the top prelates who serve as officials in the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the Vatican, are the most familiar. They have the opportunity to meet — some skeptics might say glad-hand — out-of-town voters whenever they are in Rome.
Potential beneficiaries include power players such as Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a Vatican grandee with Italian lineage; Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and the long-shot Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who is also mentioned on papal shortlists, said Tuesday that the cardinals should start the conclave as soon as possible. “The church in its wisdom and experience, and in accordance with a very strict code, is moving towards the earliest possible conclave,” he said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
In 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the church’s highly visible doctrinal watchdog, seemed to benefit from the quick turnaround.
“It’s an open secret that last time, the cardinals didn’t know each other that well,” said Thavis, who added that cardinals who run dioceses around the world would generally prefer a longer time period to allow the views and voices of the lesser-known among them to be heard. This time, nearly half of the cardinals have participated in a previous conclave. “They don’t want to be rushed like last time, when they picked the most familiar face.”
Rules were amended
An apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996 stipulated that the cardinals had to wait at least 15 days after a pope’s death to begin a conclave, giving their colleagues time to get to Rome and attend the funeral of the deceased patriarch.
Benedict’s resignation may have granted him the fantasy of attending, or at least reading about, his own funeral, but it also has created a great deal of confusion. On Monday, he amended the conclave law, giving the College of Cardinals the authority to choose the date to start the selection process.