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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Maty

    The Catholic Church has been criminally remiss in addressing child abuse amongst its members- but to label everyone involved with the Church a pedophile and make a joke of it is libelous and counter-productive.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  2. dmt717

    "Why it takes so long to choose a pope". Answer is simple, they have to try to find a priest that has not been caught abusing little boys.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Gort1

      well said dmt717....im sooooooooooooooooo sick of hearing about this disgusting organization.....wish the news people would ignore...

      March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • hecep

      Perhaps it takes so long because abuse is a prerequisite and it's hard to fond someone willing to admit it in their secretive closed forum. And, if the "boss" is tainted, then he's less likely to come down on abusers who made him boss.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Josh

      Or knew it was happening, and allowed it to continue.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  3. Religion

    To prove his divinely given super powers, the next pope will predict the stock market crash of 2008.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • mzh

      what devine power did he have where he couldn't be away from age?

      no human is having any devine power (not referring to the prophets)... otherwise human will take advantage of it to distroy others... i.e. no one has control on Sun, the moon, oxygen etc... otherwise poor countries will be in trouble as the powerful countries will ask for money...

      March 7, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  4. asdfas

    Decisions Decisions
    is a jew

    March 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  5. SmarterthanU

    It takes so long because the position is for 'THE POPE' and the last guy only left last week!! It's not like he's replacing a burger flipper. This is their process. There is no VICE POPE to step in. Lame question to begin with. Why am I entertaining this?? ARG!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  6. Pop Selector

    I heard that they will sacrifice a blond virgin after the virgin is sacrificed the blood is then given to the popes and they drink it the one who can drink the most normally is the winner, I mean pope

    March 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  7. marky

    Why do they pick a guy with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. I am glad I left this church when I was 18 – best thing I eve did...

    March 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Thank you

      We're glad too that you left our church...

      March 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  8. mzh

    I wonder what sort of Lord Catholic worships where pope says "The Lord seemed to sleep".....

    I doubt that they have any knowledge about The Lord who is the creator of the heavens, the earth and anything between them...

    I ask The Almighty to guide us to the straight path... amen....

    March 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I ask The Almighty to guide us to the straight path."
      Does your imaginary friend answer a lot of your prayers?

      March 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • mzh


      Its a great question Lin... I wish I could answer in a few words but I can't...

      few words... none of the prayers goes away... every single word that we utter, its being written... now this knowledge is not given to mankind that which prayer is being accepted and which not... as Jesus was asked about the day of judgement and he said that the knowledge is with the Father... so prophet Muhammad said the same....

      so the answer is: Indeed the knowledge with The Almighty...

      March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Poop the Clown

    The next Pope must be from the USA. It was foretold by the Bible.
    Genesis 5:24 – "God said to Washington 'Behold, for the American Pope will save the Earth. Crops will turn to gold, and the Mormons will live in exile among the beasts. This is my word."

    March 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  10. andy

    I say put all their names in a hat. We all know the Catholic religion has NO shortage of hats.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  11. Religion

    Catholicism is a giant scam.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • EyesWideOpen

      Completely and utterly irrelevant to the world. Who cares what these parasites do while they attempt to select a non-diddler. The foundations of the organization are built on fraud, murder and corruption... the generations have merely forgotten.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  12. JB in SC

    Why not have CNN pick the pope? After all they picked our president!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  13. Mud

    Can you say cult? C-U-L-T

    Shame on you Roger Mahoney for hiding and covering up. You should be in jail, not on vacation voting for a pope. YOU WILL DEAL WITH JESUS SOMEDAY SOON!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • mzh

      every single human will stand in front of The Lord who is The Creator of the entire universe and anything on it... and not in front of any creation like human...

      we ask The Almighty to judge us with His mercy and not justice... ameen

      March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  14. him


    March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Religion

      The next pope will predict the financial crisis of 2008.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • all_popes_jerk_off

      My handle makes the correct prediction!

      March 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  15. dalevitt

    Papal selection taking a long time? Haha, it's a 30-day impromptu process. In the U.S., it takes us 2 years with a primary parade through all 50 states+ and then a drawn out convention cycle. Papal selection is really fast in comparison, especially with no warning and broad selection pool...

    March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  16. St Pete

    The catholic church has committed so many atrocities. One must really have to check their brain at the door to continue to belong to such a religion.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • marky

      Completely agree – Catholicism needs a makeover!!!

      March 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Catholicism WOW!

      March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  17. They Are Way Old

    Just be glad you aren't behind them in traffic.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  18. hawaiiguest


    As I pointed out before, you continually talk about my "presuppositions", and now spouting about "step 1 step 2 blah blah", yet you never actually state what you think my presuppositions are. If you're going to debate, at least debate honestly and don't just say I'm doing some vague thing without actually showing it.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  19. Decisions Decisions

    "Let's see, who should we pick.....another closet case......another pedophile.....or another basket case? The world is watching us."

    March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  20. OROSE

    To have freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. However to openly trash peoples faith is another. You all want to make everyone in the RCC a pedo but it just shows your lack of brains. Every group has its issues and an organization must be allowd to heal itself. To heal you need a leader. One day this country will chosse a leader to heal it. God knows we need someone with a set of balls may lead us oneday. Let the Church pick its leadership because they know what needs to be done and they will.

    March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Most organizations deal with their problems differently than the RCC does. Most dont protect people who commit felonies and use their sheep's money to protect them.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • St Pete

      It's true, you don't have to be a pedophile or a closet case to be a catholic priest, but it sure helps your career if you are.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
About this blog

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.