I’m heading out to Rome to cover the papal conclave, and it seems that I will arrive in plenty of time, at least at the moment. I set my travel schedule to land on Friday March 8th, in anticipation that the conclave might start on the 11th, the following Monday. However, as today launches the official start of the conclave process, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service reports that not all of the voting cardinals have even arrived yet — and the cardinals present appear more inclined to take their time rather than rush into the conclave:
The College of Cardinals began their formal pre-conclave meetings March 4 with 142 members present, 103 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to enter the conclave to vote for a new pope.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the cardinals did not set a date for the conclave to begin and were unlikely to set a date until the 115 cardinal-electors expected were all present and until the cardinals felt confident they knew how much time they wanted for discussions beforehand. …
The cardinal-electors missing from the first congregation, he said, were Cardinals Antonios Naguib, former Coptic Catholic patriarch; Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch; Joachim Meisner of Cologne, Germany; Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid; Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Germany; Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar, Senegal; Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, Poland; Dominik Duka of Prague, Czech Republic; Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin; and John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.
Only two voting-eligible cardinals have informed the Vatican that they will not attend the conclave, one of whom is Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien. O’Brien retired and withdrew from public life after admitting to allegations of sexual impropriety over the weekend. The other is a retired bishop from Jakarta. Otherwise, the Vatican expects everyone else to eventually arrive.
CBS News spoke with Delia Gallagher of Inside the Vatican, who confirms that the cardinals are sending signals that they may wait a few days longer than first thought to start the conclave. First, Gallagher says, the College of Cardinals want enough time to discuss the needs of the Catholic Church in order to ensure that they choose the candidate who can best address those challenges, including scandals but also the need for robust evangelization and the question of reforming the Curia:
If the idea is for all the cardinals to be heard before setting the date for the conclave, it might be a while before they set the date. However, the pressing need for a smooth transition and the pressure to avoid giving the impression of an impasse will probably mean that the start date will still be sometime next week, if not as early as Monday.