Cardinals Begin Talks to Decide Date of Secret Conclave

Roman Catholic cardinals are meeting at the Vatican for preliminary talks to discuss the state of the church and decide on a date to begin the secret conclave to elect a new pope.

More than 200 cardinals will take part in the meetings, called “general congregations,” that began this morning and will continue in the afternoon. The gatherings are expected to go on all week and a conclave date is unlikely to be announced today, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said at a press briefing on March 1.

The talks involve cardinals from more than 60 nations of both voting and non-voting age. Today’s morning meeting was attended by 142 cardinals, of whom 103 can vote as they’re under the voting-age limit of 80, Lombardi said at a briefing. Sixty-five cardinals were absent and are expected to join the meeting this afternoon or tomorrow, he said.

The conclave, which will take place in the Sistine Chapel, will be attended by 115 voting-age cardinals. Lombardi said the cardinals are divided on whether to hold the conclave soon or spend more time getting to know one another and discussing key issues before having to select a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Some cardinals “are in more of a rush or want to proceed more quickly” to the conclave, Lombardi said. “Then there are those who’d like more time in the congregations, and this is something they still must work out among themselves.”

The conclave may begin as soon as March 10, U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley was cited as saying in an interview published yesterday in the National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28 became the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate. The 85-year-old, now known as “pope emeritus,” flew by helicopter to the papal summer residence south of Rome and will return to the Vatican in two months to spend his retirement in a convent.

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