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. Kimn8R

    Who cares?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  2. Decider

    It takes a lot of b s to build a poop....I mean pope.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Bob

      Incredibly weak...

      March 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  3. jan

    If the guys in the robes weren't so wicked it would be easy to choose a Pope. But none dare step forward or hope another would choose him, because he either has dark secrets or would not want to be held responsible for those who do. WHAT I DON'T UNDERSTAND IS WHY THERE ARE ANY CATHOLICS LEFT AT ALL. TRUE FAITH IS NOT COVERED BY THE UMBRELLA OF ANY RELIGION.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  4. him

    I saw the bible movie on history channel it was great to see sodom and gomorrah. The city of sodom was destroy by God.

    have they seen the BIBLE MOVIE?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Do the Right Thing

    The reason it takes so long is because the Cards have to make it look like they're doing something meaningful and important. Anything else I can answer for you?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  6. Mark

    kindling shortage

    March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  7. JC

    Why does it take so long?

    The better question is why can't they find a pope who isn't a serious closet case, a pervert, or a criminal?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  8. lone

    How many cardinals does it take to make a pope?.....................one

    March 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm |

      it takes 2/3 +1 majority (of all cardinals under the age of 80 as of 2-28-13) to elect a pope

      March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  9. harrisonhits2

    Being the head of the largest organization of pedophiles in the world comes with a lot of perqs, so of course all the cardinals want to be the one elected. Takes time to convince enough of the others to vote for you.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  10. LuLu

    They have to make sure he's never molested any little boys before.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  11. Alex Povolotski

    Because they can't decide on one.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  12. pedalfile

    Burn the vatican to the ground.

    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

    March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Alex Povolotski


      March 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Nissim Levy

      Very well said.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kathy0715

      I agree with your ten reasons, but disagree with burning down the Vatican because of the art. Maybe we could turn it into a homeless shelter?

      March 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • 2cents

      Ok... sure. BUT!!!! I say again....BUT.......... what if you are wrong????

      March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Wow Peddy, you make alot of @ssumptions about people and how they feel about others. Keep tearing down others...we wouldn't want you to try and add something important to the conversation of faith.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Wow

      Man, you need to lighten up a bit. Find a new hobby.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • cincinjay

      I am a recovering Catholic myself- I have serious issues with many of their stances. Woth that said, some of your claims are inaccurate:
      9.Inaccurate: evolution- not creationism- is taught in the church and schools- what yu are thinking of is protestants.
      5/ The Catholic Church tentatively accepts the Big Band and the ideas forwarded in that theory as the most likely truth. In fact, it was a priest who developed the theory
      4. Catholic theology does not require true faith or baptism to enter heaven- Good deeds and acts can be enough for an Atheist or a Polytheist to enter heaven
      3. The Catholic Church su[pports all major branches of science and the vast majority of intellectualism.
      1. Catholic scholars are amongst the best and most rigourous in the world.
      Much of what you are claiming is acutally what many 'low' protestants and fundamentalist claim. Just thought youshould get the facts right before you burn anything to the ground:)

      March 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  13. Recovering Catholic

    Awwww....c'mon.....let them have their little "American Idol" type moments........ it's nothing more than a popularity contest anyway.....just picking the next pedophile to lead the woman-hating, anti-science, greedy machine known as the catholic church.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  14. ORChuck

    Why does it take so long?

    Gee, it takes us 18-24 months to choose a new President. In fact, campaigning for the the 2016 election is already underway... in low gear, yes, but underway.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm |

      the president was only elected because it takes 50%+1 vote in the american government to elect a president

      in the vatican it takes 66.6%+1 vote to elect a pope.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  15. capnmike

    Ah yes, it is so difficult to decide who is the biggest thief, the nastiest pervert, the most believable liar in this gang of parasites.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  16. Lester

    It makes no differance who the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops are because they don't make laws that effect the Catholic
    population.The people should vote and elect the Pope. The rules were set years ago and should not be changed.
    The Catholic Church today is operating like Washington. Not many follow their leadership.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  17. Dark Knight

    they are looking for someone that will also cover up all the pedo priest, I think that's the reason why mahony is there to select one.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • sf

      If they covered everything up you wouldnt know about it. These jokes are obvious will someone please think outside the box. Same type of people who tell fart jokes im sure..Cant come to these sites for intelligence, so im leaving with the last word. Grow up.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Hike Muckabee

      Uhoh, someone's butthurt.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  18. IAM

    Well, they don't speak the same language. Just guessing here. Plus, they get more free meals if they take their time.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  19. Dark Knight

    The reason it's taking so long is ........ They need to run an FBI background check to make sure they are not Pedo or Child molesters....Thats just my guess..or they can may be looking for one that will cover up for all the pedos out there.....

    March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Truth

      actually,, they'd all fail since they were all part of the cover ups. Otherwise the cover ups wouldn't have been so successful.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  20. JC

    It's hard to pick a pope because it's hard to find a priest who isn't a gay bashing closet case, a pedophile, or a criminal.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • capnmike


      March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Hike Muckabee

      I thought gay bashing closet case was exactly what they were looking for.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
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