Cardinals Return to Conclave Vote in Bid to Find New Pope

Roman Catholic cardinals returned to the Sistine Chapel for a third round of voting after they failed to elect a successor to retired Benedict XVI in their morning ballots.

The 115 cardinals under the age limit of 80 began their afternoon balloting after black smoke billowed over St. Peter’s Square earlier today, indicating no one received the two-thirds of the votes needed to become the church’s 266th pope. The conclave began yesterday in the 15th-century chapel adorned by Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment.

“This is not a rushed process, one approaches the altar very slowly holding high in his hands the ballot that he just completed,” German Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who took part in he last papal vote in 2005, said in a statement made before the conclave started that was read out at a press briefing today by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. “The atmosphere is completely meditative and deeply intense.”

Vatican analysts depict this conclave as a struggle between reformers seeking to overhaul the Vatican bureaucracy known as the Curia after last year’s papal leaks scandal and an old guard maneuvering to maintain its influence. Cardinals such as Timothy Dolan of New York or Ghana’s Peter Turkson have been touted as ready to shake up the Rome-based institution, even as the election of a non-European wouldn’t necessarily presage a major change of course for the church.

“Geography is far overplayed in this discussion,” said Christopher Bellitto, a papal historian at Kean University in New Jersey. “What people are concerned with is finding the right person” and “the right person is not working in the Curia,” though “you can’t have someone with no experience.”

Betting Odds

While Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola is currently seen as the favorite by betting company Paddy Power Plc, non-Europeans dominate the rest of the rankings. Scola, who as archbishop of Milan is seen as a Vatican outsider, has 11-to-4 odds of being named pope after Benedict’s Feb. 28 abdication, and Turkson is second at 7-to-2.

Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer is third at 5-to-1, followed by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at 6-1, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet at 7-to-1 and Cardinals Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan of the U.S. at 10-to-1 and 20-to-1, respectively. Filippino Cardinal Luis Tagle is also seen with 20-1 odds as is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy.

American Pope?

“Dolan could even get the votes of the Curia,” Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist who wrote a book based on the documents stolen by Benedict’s butler, said on his Twitter Inc. account today. Support from cardinals in the Curia could be enough to give Dolan, head of the U.S. bishops conference, the 77 votes needed to become pope.

“The conference of Catholic bishops here in the U.S. don’t seem to be taking orders from me,” President Barack Obama, asked if the first U.S. pope would take directions from him, said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, according to a transcript today. “It seems to me that an American pope would preside just as effectively as a Polish pope or an Italian pope or a Guatemalan pope,” said Obama, whose administration has clashed with U.S. bishops over issues such as contraception.

Dolan, in a message sent this week to priests in his diocese before the conclave began, said he expects a new pope to be elected by tomorrow. Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis said he’s ready for balloting to last a week, Italian newswire Ansa reported yesterday.

The longest conclave dates to the 13th century, when Gregory V took nearly three years to be chosen. The elections of John Paul II in 1978 and his successor Benedict in 2005 took three days and two days, respectively.

Church ‘Princes’

The red-hatted “princes of the church,” who hail from six continents, will choose a new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics amid a waning church presence in Europe and North America and expansion in Asia and Africa. Their vote also comes after they were briefed last week on a secret probe into last year’s leaking of papal documents, a case that depicted a web of Vatican intrigue undermining Benedict and fueled calls to overhaul the Curia.

Of the 115 cardinal electors, 67 were created by Benedict and 48 by John Paul II. They spent last week with cardinals above the voting age discussing challenges facing the church and sizing up papal candidates, including possibly electing the first non-European pope since Syrian Gregory III in 741.

Some of the debates focused on how to improve the work of the Curia in light of the so-called “Vatileaks” case. Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler, was sentenced by a Vatican court to 18 months in prison for stealing his documents.

Papal Pardon

Later pardoned by Benedict, Gabriele indicated that he had leaked the documents to Italian journalist Nuzzi to protect the Pope and expose “evil and corruption” in the Vatican.

Last December, the Pope was handed a secret dossier on the case by three cardinals he commissioned to investigate it. The cardinals then briefed their colleagues on the matter during last week’s talks. Italian newspaper La Repubblica said the dossier also discussed alleged financial irregularities at the Vatican and that the report played a key role in Benedict’s decision to resign on Feb. 11, when the 85-year-old German announced he no longer had the strength to lead the church.

Cardinals held talks on the Vatican’s bank on March 11, the Holy See press office said. The bank, the target of a 2010 Italian probe into alleged violations of money-laundering laws, has struggled to meet global norms on transparency.

In July, a Council of Europe report said that while it’s made progress, the bank still needs to improve transaction supervision. The next pope will have to further overhaul the Institute for Works of Religion, as the bank is known, Rome newspaper Il Messaggero reported today, which said an African cardinal told his counterparts during their March 11 briefing that “Peter never needed a bank.”

Under Benedict, the church was “attacked from without and betrayed from within,” Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, said in a March 1 comment to subscribers. His resignation must been seen “in the perspective of a man who wishes to hand on, while he yet breathes, the weapons to fight a colossal battle” that’s now beginning “in earnest.”

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