(VATICAN CITY) After weeks of discussion and debate, the papal conclave begins today with the procession of 115 cardinal electors of the Roman Catholic Church from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel, expected to last an hour until the declaration of “Extra omnes” — “everyone else out!” — and the clanging of the doors.  At that point, the decision rests on the cardinals and the will of God. I’ll embed the NBC News live video feed, as they’re supposed to broadcast this live:

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There seems to be very little consensus on the direction of the former, and George Weigel told NBC News that he sees a split between reformers and those seeking “institutional maintenance”:

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NBC also has brief profiles of their top ten list of papabili, which makes for a handy scorecard, even when we’re not even sure whether these are really the players.  As I say in an interview later in this post, handicapping this process is a bit like attempting to guess a Super Bowl winner in September by reviewing what the players eat for breakfast.  You may guess right, but it’s probably just luck.

If we know little about the minds of the College of Cardinals, we know much more about the procession. It begins at 11:30 and should last one hour. If the NBC feed doesn’t work (and I’ll be checking it), the procession will be streamed live by the Vatican. The cardinals enter in groups by order: the Order of Bishops, the Order of Presbyters, and Order of Deacons.  The first cardinal in procession will be Cardinal Giovanni Re, and last will be Cardinal James Harvey, one of the newest raised to the College, chosen as cardinal by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in November 2012.

Today’s schedule will differ from the norm over the next few days, given the late start.  After the procession ends at 5:30 local time, the cardinals will take their vows of secrecy, have a meditation period, and potentially take a vote today — although the Vatican informed us yesterday that a vote is not necessarily required on the first day.  The day ends in the Sistine Chapel with vespers (evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours), transfer back to the Domus Santae Marthae, and dinner at 8 pm.  We’ll supposedly get a heads-up if the vote is skipped in favor of an early retirement, otherwise we’ll be waiting in the media center until deep in the evening.

Tomorrow and succeeding days, the schedule gets firmer:

  • 6:30-7:30: Breakfast
  • 7:45: Transfer to the Pauline Chapel
  • 8:15: Mass
  • 9:30 Discussion and voting in the Sistine Chapel (2 ballots)
  • 12:30 Transfer to Domus Santae Marthae
  • 13:00 Lunch
  • 16:00 Transfer to the Palazzo Apostolico
  • 16:50 Voting in the Sistine Chapel (2 ballots)
  • 19:15 Vespers
  • 19:30 Transfer to Domus Santae Marthae
  • 20:00 Dinner

In other words, most days we’ll have a lid on by around 7.  Of course, no one expects this to go more than a few days, so this may not be in play for long.

George Weigel talked about the battle between reformers and institutional maintenance in his spot for NBC News last night.  For a different — but not exclusive — perspective on these issues, I interviewed veteran Vatican analyst Fr. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University and National Catholic Reporter earlier today:

Reese has an article up today at NCR discussing the two different types of “reform” proposed, and which is more likely to be addressed by an incoming Pope:

Many of the cardinals are looking for a pope who can reform the Vatican curia, but it is not clear what they mean by “reform.” “Reform” is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

I would distinguish between two types of reform: 1) Better management, 2) Comprehensive reform.

Much of the scandals surrounding the curia recently are simple management problems: financial corruption, sexual impropriety, petty infighting among factions, leaking of documents. Dealing with these issues is neither rocket science nor theology. …

Speaking about reforming the curia is like speaking about reforming the U.S. tax code. Everyone is for it until it affects them.

Even members of the Roman curia speak about the need for reform, but for a curial cardinal, reform means he gets more power and his opponent in another office gets less. For conservatives, reform means having a strong curia that speaks with one voice in imposing the Vatican’s vision on the rest of the church. For moderates, reform means a decentralization of power and more collegiality. In other words, you cannot reform the curia until you know what you want it to do.

When you hear of “reform,” just realize that it’s a word that carries several meanings and contexts here at the Vatican. Be sure to read it all, and also read his suggestion that Americans should learn a lesson from conclaves in dealing with Congress … especially a certain 13th-century conclave.