Electing a pope: What's taking so long?
Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" is seen through the Sistine Chapel doors on April 16, 2005. The painting, on the wall above the altar, was completed in 1541.
March 6th, 2013
01:18 PM ET

Electing a pope: What's taking so long?

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Rome (CNN) - In and around the Vatican these days, there's one question everyone keeps asking: When is the conclave to elect the new pope going to start?

The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church aren't saying, but they're sending a clear message: They will not be rushed.

As of the seventh day after Pope Benedict XVI flew off into the sunset, the voting cardinals hadn't even all arrived in Rome, leaving the world wondering what's taking so long.

But don't be fooled. The conclave matters, but it isn't the only game in town. What's happening now is at least as important.

Since Monday, the princes of the church have been meeting in what are called General Congregations - closed-door discussion sessions where all of the world's cardinals can talk about whatever is on their mind.

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Think of it like this: If the conclave is the presidential election, the General Congregations happening now are the primaries - or the caucuses held every four years in Iowa, where friends, neighbors and coworkers meet and discuss why they think their candidate would make the best president.

The conversations won't be that nakedly political, but everyone in the room is sizing up everyone else as they discuss the issues facing the church.

Some of that happens over coffee breaks, as one Vatican spokesman hinted on Monday, the first day of the General Congregations.

"There's a coffee break for about 30 minutes at a special buffet area in the front part of the audience hall," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica. "Cardinals have an opportunity to go down and mix and mingle."

The cardinals aged 80 and over, who are barred by Church law from voting for the next pope, do get to participate in the General Congregations. It's their only chance to set the agenda.

"They want to say what the next pope will hear, because he's probably in that room, and they also want to alert the people who haven't spent so much time in Rome just what the situation really is here as they see it," Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who participated in the conclave to elect Benedict XVI but is too old for this conclave, said the groundwork is laid during General Congregations.

"By the time the congregations are over, you have a clear idea of who can deal with the problems we've discussed," he said on Sunday.

The cardinals under the age of 80 who elect the pope continue evaluating each other once the conclave begins, Cardinal George said.

"You take people aside and say 'Now, in the balloting today, so-and-so had support and I wasn't even very much aware who he is. Tell me about him," he told CNN before the General Congregations started.

A look at possible papal contenders

But they want to go into the conclave with pretty clear ideas about who should be pope, Cardinal Sean O'Malley said at a news conference Tuesday.

"We want to have enough time in the General Congregations so that when we go into the conclave it's a time of decision," the Boston cardinal said.

"This is a time of discernment and prayer and reflections," he said, referring to the General Congregations.

"Many cardinals are concerned that if there is not enough time spent in the General Congregations then when we get into the conclave it could drag on," he said.

"If you cut short the discussions, the conclave could go on and on and we really prefer to have the discussions done before," he said.

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And how long will the discussions take?

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, answered that at the same news conference on Tuesday: "It takes as long as it takes."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican

soundoff (512 Responses)
  1. sbkilb

    They are deciding who they can trust to keep there dirty little secrets.It is beyond me that after so many have broken there vows they still deem themselves of importance

    March 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  2. awaiting moderation

    I see the censors are hard at work today.Protect those Priest,might be your kid next time.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  3. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    The decomposing underbelly of the RCC and all the other religions has been exposed. There is no "pope-cure" as the white sheet has been unfolded over the stupidity of it all.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  4. Bruno B.

    Yellow journalism and the comments goes along with the article but going more to the extreme of stupidity

    March 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  5. NoCalCraig

    Maybe it's a Spare the Air Day.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  6. joesmith

    could this be Americas turn??

    March 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  7. saluki17

    This is an idiotic article. They haven't even started the process of actually picking/electing a new pope. How can something that hasn't started be taking too long??????

    March 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Topher

      Dude, do you live in Carbondale?

      March 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  8. jschmidt

    BTW the 1.196 billion Catholics in the world care about who is selected.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • PushingBack

      Maybe some of them. Probably not most of them.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • newtonfig

      but not as much as they care about Justin Bieber's next tweet

      March 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Mary S.

      Thank you for reminding those incapable of believing that there are some who believe in the process which is the topic of the article. I don't judge the others and their comments and neither should they judge those who disagree with them. I am pleased that they are being thorough. I found it interesting that the conclave is closed to the public but this blogger, speculates as to what happens. It must really irritate journalists that they cannot "interpret" what is going on and feel left out so they make up stuff that gullible people take as the truth. I pray for all involved in this process of selecting the next pope.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  9. Corkpuller

    Take us 4 years to find a President and that process still ends with a questionable leader. So we do it over every 4 years. Give it some time......Vetting for a Pope....funny....sounds jewish.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  10. frost

    ill tell you why its taking so long to find a pope . there try to find one that dont finger pop little boys.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Pietra

      Why would they want to break with tradition?

      March 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • jbcal

      I believe the word you're looking for is "they're". But continue on brainiac.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  11. jschmidt

    and now they don't have to worry about picking Chavez.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  12. jschmidt

    it is also not like if they mistake the person is only in power for 4 years. Some person in their 60s can be around 20 years. So picking the right person is important and not to be rushed.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  13. clinky

    Choose a card(inal), choose any card(inal). Let's see what we've got:

    Pedo, pedo, pedo, pedo....

    March 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Mary S.

      Obviously you have a small vocabulary.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  14. Fred Evil

    They finally figured out they're irrelevant?

    March 7, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  15. chaniyan

    Just watched the 1st season of Borgia....about Pope election by the college of cardinals in 1480s....haha....backstabbing, horse trading, lies and intrigue.....I am guessing more of the same is going on.....

    March 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • jschmidt

      It is a bit different now. THe Church doesn't control countries like it did back then.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • newtonfig

      you can say that about every government and every religion, including our founding fathers. different times. past is the past

      March 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  16. Dr Tom

    So long? It's only been a week since the Pope resigned. Sometimes the CNN editors (who write the headlines) seem to go out of their way to appear stupid.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Crank

    It's hard to come up with a guy who can put a fresh spin on the same message coming out of the Vatican for hundreds of years. At this point, they should just assign the job to a fortune telling machine. One that spits out pre fabricated Catholic approved "fortunes" to anyone willing to pay.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  18. It takes a month

    to hide the evidence, just in case one of them does get elected.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  19. Alicia

    Who cares?

    March 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • clarity

      lol – that's the spirit.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • EricL

      You do, obviously. You took the time to go to this article, and then you took the time to reply. Obviously it is of preeminent importance for you.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Rick

      I couldn't agree more. This is the kind of article that someone who just wants to get some piece of rubbish printed would write. Unbelievable piece of trash journalism.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  20. yoyo

    I'm just glad the public doesn't have a say in it...look what they did with this last election.

    March 7, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Joe

      If you think the American public as a whole makes terrible choices then you must be stunned by poor decision making skills of GOP primary voters.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • kamakiriad

      You are right! I can't imagine why Americans would reject such an exclusive platform that ensures everyone makes less except the top 4%. That sounds like a winner right?

      Sorry the public's rejection of the Republican agenda stung you so badly.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      The last election at least they can pick the lesser of two liars.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Mark

      The last election did exactly what it was supposed to do; it let the people choose – whether you agree with that choice is immaterial.

      March 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • newtonfig

      they would pick Jordan, but Im a Bo Bice fan myself.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.