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. glk20c

    No disrespect to Catholics, but is everyone at CNN Catholic?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Nate

      Catholics make up more of the population that those represented by most of CNNs articles.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  2. Terry

    Pedifile: The only thing you proved in your ten statements is how very, very little you know and understand about anything. Sad, to say the least.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  3. jj

    Father Guido Sarducci

    March 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  4. The Decider

    May the best pedophile win.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  5. him

    BLACK POPE doesn't bother people at all.

    SAMSON was black hebrew.... Just watch the NEXT POPE attacking criminals of the world and government's greedy. He tell the government create jobs, jobs, jobs!!!

    March 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Pope Smells

    Just pick one of the old closet cases with a funny red hat and black bath robe and call it a day already.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  7. CaKe

    It takes awhile to find a good religious pedophile! Sorry that I feel that way! Wait... no I'm not!

    March 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  8. John B

    You have to pay off all the Alter boys...

    March 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  9. glk20c


    March 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  10. JPX

    All I see is a group of creepy men wearing dresses and beanies.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  11. him

    May people predicted that the next pope will most likely attack the GOVERNMENT's BAD ECONOMY.....


    GOD will come back.... GOD will come back. look at the sign. The russian meteoroid.
    The POPE will come back for his vengeance and bad economy.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • LinCA

      It's high time to double up on your medication.

      March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • JPX

      Wow, "him", you're a nut-job. Finish that G.E.D. and get a job.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  12. timkens

    Help me out here: In the land where election campaigns last two and one-half years, and where speculation about 2016 began the day after the 2012 election, why do we think this now month-old process is "taking so long"?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm |

      you cant become a pope like obama did, obama only got about 51% of the vote.....a pope needs 66.6%+1 vote to become pope

      March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  13. Louis

    What? No propellers on those beanies?

    March 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Luiz

      Sorry for my ignorance here, but these priests wear such elaborate dresses that I often wonder what kind of underwear they wear? Maybe Victoria's Secret?

      March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Michael

    takes awhile to find the biggest phedophile among so many

    March 7, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • CaKe

      Hahahahaha I'm not alone!

      March 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  15. Colin in Florida

    Its only been seven days-hardly a long time. I guess the reporters in Rome are bored and want to move on to the next story.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  16. Pope Smells

    They have to find a pope that is anti-choice but pro-molestation.

    My bad...that's the entire catholic church.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  17. TheAntiChrist

    Well every pope has his own preference in what kind of boy he likes. Supply and demand. If they don't have enough red heads then that elected pope is gonna be hard to please.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  18. The Next Pope Will Also Be A Pedophile

    The catholic church is nothing more than an international crime family who's mission is to rob the gullible and molest the innocent.

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

      That goes for all religious organizations!

      March 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Carol

      Really? Do me a favor a read your post again and tell me how ridiculous it sounds.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  19. CaKe


    March 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  20. holden

    the picking of the pope is like the sequester...nobody cares

    March 7, 2013 at 2:47 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.