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. Matt

    Taking a month to pick a Pope isn't extremely long as we have years of campaigning for every position in our government.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  2. censored in the usa

    @ His panic. Easy 51 percent of the voters are losers.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Tom

      Might I suggest you read "Hand jobs for dummies"... It was written especially for people like you, who won't be able to perform any other types of jobs....

      March 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  3. griz bear

    My guess the pope will be named 3/18/2013. Three( the month ) divided into the day ( 18 ) is 3 times 6 or 666.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Pope Calculus

      Where did you learn math?

      March 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      That looks like some Texas math there.

      Defund Planned Parenthood + teach abstinence only = fix the teen pregnancy problem.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  4. Jeebus Chreebus

    Because they can't find one who isn't a criminal or pedophile?

    March 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • brown

      The Catholic Church uses the same play book Corporate America uses ...

      deny deny deny lie lie lie
      blame the victim
      blame the victim

      wash, rinse and repeat!

      March 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Peter the Eater

      Well said, and the TRUTH!!!

      March 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  5. Bhawk

    Doesn't take as long to pick a God's chosen as it is for the Cons in Congress to figure out they are hurting the country and destorying the GOP

    March 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • The Truth

      ... or to review all the lies Comrad Obama told or liste the Marxist dolts who believe him!

      March 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  6. LL

    Just more politics from the people who gave new meaning to the word politics. The new pope will be an old white man that has worked his way up the good old boy ladder in the Vatican that will keep his mouth shut about the rampant problem with priests and young boys within the church.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  7. Jason B

    They want to be sure they don't get some radical guy who suddenly wants to bring the Church from 400 years behind the times to 200 years behind the times.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  8. Evangenital

    Who cares?

    March 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  9. phearis

    They have to find out who molested the most children and the winner becomes the Pope.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Pope Peter Eater

      Probably true!!!

      March 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  10. Sid Airfoil

    I'm a devout atheist, but even I don't condemn the church for taking a week or two, or even a month or two. The church is 2000 years old. What's a week, give or take? Internet society has become obsessed with immediate gratification. Maybe the Cardinals can text their votes to save a few hours on plane travel.


    March 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • ME II

      @Sid Airfoil
      "I'm a devout atheist,"

      Well, "foil" sounds right.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Scott


      March 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  11. Bill

    Why aren't all the Cardinals there yet? It isn't like this was a big surprise.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • End Religion

      These fellas know their drama. It's all a part of the show. They also don't want to even hint that picking a new pope is just as easy as picking a name out of gold-thread embroidered hat.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • StClown

      It probably has something to do with death, zombies and bunny rabbits. Trust me, I'm a saint.

      It's the middle of Lent. I'm sure there are special services and whatnot going on within their various churches and dioceses that require their time and attention.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  12. Manuel Morales

    Thera are two reasons why someone attacks my Catholic faith: Ignorance and/or hate.. The worst people is the one that has both.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • chris

      Or maybe they simply think that your faith has caused the death and suffering of millions of human beings, and that it doesn't become immune from criticism just because its faith.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • End Religion

      Manuel, you're correct that we attack your faith because of your ignorance.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • ME II

      @Manuel Morales,
      "Ignorance and/or hate"
      Interesting... dismiss and demean those who disagree nice. You seem to be displaying the very things you accuse other of.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • EX catholic

      Ok everybody, Please! Cease and Desist the Attacks on Manuel's Catholic Faith. He does NOT KNOW why is it?

      March 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Pope Peter Eater

      So your faith is in Religion made up of mostly pedophiles?

      March 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Curious

    if they supposedly talk to GOD to find the next POPE, why would there need to be a VOTE if GOD has a hand in picking the next POPE? How is Pope different than any other man made position?

    March 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • chris

      Even better question, if god always picks the pope. Why is the pope always Catholic? Wouldn't it be a shocker if all the Cardinals suddenly voted unanimously for Ken Ham?

      March 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
  14. joe

    Can't find anyone with a clean police record? Hey, seriously, did you hear that Cardinal from Australia, Pell, and what he said last week? incredible! (paraphrase): "It's unfortunate for the current Pope that all this business was made public-normally, we would have handled it internally". SAY WHAT?!!!!

    March 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  15. Dustin

    eenie meenie miney POPE!

    March 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  16. EX catholic

    This is like; Who cares?

    March 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Manuel Morales

      I do care and that's enough.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  17. UltraAtheist

    Why isn't it just the son of the last guy?

    March 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • newtonfig

      Kim Ben Il?

      Love the idea. I was thinking a raffle myself

      March 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Tom

      Trolls trying to be funny...

      March 7, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  18. newtonfig

    presumably Donald Trump has applied for the job. His ego is big enough

    March 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  19. publicdole

    Only took 2 years for the US to pick a President and look at the loser we got.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • His panic

      How can the twice winner be called the looser? Intentional Paradox?

      March 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  20. awaiting moderation

    Our President just gave his blessing to all things that before were church taboos. Our world is full of changes since Obama was elected.

    March 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Chutzpah

      The world has been full of changes for hundreds of years. It's called progress.

      March 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • irunner

      Thank God!

      March 7, 2013 at 1:22 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.