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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. bombastus

    I hear there is a lot of sentiment for a Pope from Latin America or Africa. I can understand that. While it would be wonderful for this part these parts of the world to be better represented, the last thing the world needs is for Africans to be encouraged by their own African Pope to not use birth control or condoms. I wonder if the Cardinals think about this sort of thing although I doubt it could ever be verbalized.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      not to mention you have african countries trying hard to bring in bills that would mean the death penalty for being gay.
      how would an african pope stand on that one? condemn the bills or stand with the african nations?

      March 7, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Tom

      Considering that the RCC is against the death penalty, he would condemn the bills.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  2. Religion

    The new Pope will be on Twitter.

    The church is really trying to connect with young people — in a way that doesn’t involve hush money.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Frank M.

      You may have missed it-they have been "connecting" with young people for some time now. Weak minded idiots continue to support these pedophiles. Organized religion is alot like organized crime. What a croc!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  3. Religion

    The Pope said that at age 85 he cannot physically go on.

    Meanwhile, Hugh Hefner is going to be 87 and he just married a 26-year-old.

    So much for that celibate lifestyle!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Brian Hartman

      Just because he married a 26-year old doesn't mean he reaps the full benefits of that. 😉 She's probably going to get in his bed once or twice and hope he has a coronary. 🙂

      March 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Soouthern Celt

      Hugh Hefner doesn't have a Pacemaker (and presumably congestive heart failure) and doesn't manage a world wide organization and its problems, not to mention the daily ceremonial and liturgical work the Pope has to do. That would be hard for any man, but an 85 year old man not in the best health? Give him a break. Let's see what you are capable of at 85.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Ron Furburger

      Hefner has a foot pump to pump up his love muscle. Hopefully his arthritic leg will allow his foot to hit the pedal of his footpump, located on the floor!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  4. Religion

    With the Pope retiring, more than 100 cardinals will sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel to choose the next Pope. They'll send out white smoke if they've chosen somebody, black smoke if they haven't chosen somebody, and a text message when they find out that it's 2013.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Matt

      wow, that's a new one, if only I hadn't heard that on EVERY news station for the last 3 weeks! Come on, be original!!

      March 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      Only when the new Pope logs on to his twitter account.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  5. Becuase doing it fast gets you a Hitler Youth Pope!

    They went fast last time and look what happened – we got a Hitler Youth Pope!

    If they go fast this time, we'll end up with a Circus Midget for Mussolini Pope!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  6. Frmr Mrine

    I love it. Why does choosing a Pope take so long?? We have presidential elections that last 18 – 24 months and pundits the world over wonder why it takes "so long" to choose a Pope. How about this – If you're not a Catholic, don't worry about it. I get a kick out of all the Catholic bashing that goes on in this country, but whenever the media wants to show something religious like Easter Sunrise service they go right to Rome. In the movies, every Christian reference seems to be Catholic related, as if the Catholic church were the final authority on everything Christian. Every time they mention a saint or Christian tradition they reach right for Catholicism. But in everyday conversation and life anti-Catholicism seems to be the last respectable prejudice.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      now thats what i call narrowing down the 'poor me, im such a victim' field.
      Usually you lot moan about how christianity is the last remaining allowed target but you want to go one further and claim its catholicism.
      way to stake that claim.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  7. Brad

    They should try taking a laxative, that usually helps me when my Poop takes so long.........

    March 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  8. Red Pison

    Prophecy dictates that this will be the final pope, and it will be Peter the Roman.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      Reality dictates that its all a load of bull.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  9. katiepea

    Wait, I thought the pope was "chosen by God" ? clearly he's not, I don't think God would choose pedophiles to be the Pope. I'm going to just go ahead and say the Catholic Church is wholly corrupt.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  10. publicdole

    Because they don't want to elect the same type of idiot that the USA did this past year.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Religion

      Romney lost.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  11. Ron Furburger

    First they have to figure out if the pope's poop don't stank. They pass a few tu rds of the prospective pope shy tt under the nozes of about 10 bird dogs. If they run and grab a bone instead of munchin a tu rd, the idiot is elected pope!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      That is some funny shy tt

      March 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  12. DJ

    It is sad to read al the untruthful slanderous comments about the Catholic Church. It is the one true faith handed down by Jesus Christ to Peter & His apositles. Christ understood & said that the Church would be shaken at times but the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Read Mathew 16:18. It is biblical fact.
    There are 1.2 billion catholics and 500,000 priest worldwide, like every other group, profession, or organization there are a very small percentage that do evil, though all sin. Most are tremendous and kind hearted people doing God's work without recognition. Sadly you only hear about the few doing evil that the evil secular media love to report on, rather than all of the good the Church is doing throughout the world. There are also many evil teachers, doctors, business professionals, and every other profession and organization. The Catholic Church is now the purest organization as it has purged itslef from most of those that were doing evil.
    Much of what is being reported is completely untrue. Both historically and current news. Read Michael Coren's book called "Why Catholic's are Right" for a truthful account of the history of the Church and of current events.

    In the end God's truth will prevail and the lies spewed by the media and others with axes to grind with the Church and the truth will be revealed to all.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Religion

      Proof that there's a sucker born every minute.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Please, keep this crap to yourself. It's so illogical and flawed, it's embarrassing to even think we are the same species.
      All this abracadabra, big guy in the sky, nonsense belongs in the dark ages. Religions (catholics especially) have violently slowed down the evolution of our human race for way too long ... Just to think were science and medicine would be if it were not for the constant oppression of the church... religion is a plague, a cancer. We must eradicate it.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      oh please, the catholic church covered up abuse for decades. Its not just about the few bad apples or whatever but how the authorities dealt with it......and they dealt with it by covering it up.
      pure as the driven slush.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      That would also make a very sweet fairytale, right up there with princesses, Santa, the tooth fairy, Cupid, the Easter bunny, and good ole humpty himself. The post above this hit he nails the head, RIGHT ON TOM!

      March 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • JJ

      You delisional sick fuck. This evil pedophile infested cult depends on gullible, indoctrinated, kool-aide drinking, mackrel snaping, child rape supporting ring kissers such as yourself to continue their evil deeds. You're as disgusting and repugnant as the child rapists you support.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      It's sadder to see the truth – the truth about the church, and it's knowing support of all those child molesting priests is so much worse than any lie could be.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  13. rad666

    Why does it even have to go to a vote?

    Just select the last runner up.

    It can be quick because they do not have to rely on input from the sheep.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  14. Buck Rogers

    "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Matthew 23:9

    March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  15. truth is a blinding light

    What a messed up church. I dont know how they have any members left. Would someone please explain it.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • LinCA

      @truth is a blinding light

      You said, "I dont know how they have any members left. Would someone please explain it."
      Common sense isn't nearly as common as the phrase would imply. There is no shortage of people who can't tie their own shoes without the help of an imaginary friend. Religion helps them get through the day. The RCC has had a few thousand years to amass a following.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  16. robert

    Why don't they take a bit more time and dissolve the organization and refund the money they have stolen from billions of suckers over the years.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Andy

    Actually-when you consider the 2 year length of most presidential elections and the billions thrown at it. This are relatively short and inexpensive.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • rad666

      Can be quick because the church has all the money and does not have to rely on input from the sheep.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  18. Chuck

    The original church did not replace Jesus or James. The Peter who is listed as the first pope came along a hundred years later. When the apostles replaced Judas they prayed that God would choose the man and then drew lots. There was no political posturing and no voting. If the Roman church expects to be considered "the church" they should at least follow the scriptural examples

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

      Because of all the in-fighting, each of the apostles (including Mary and Judas) started their own church. The one that got the most "traction", was the Church that Peter stated. Once Peter had the majority, he seen to it, that the others were destroyed.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Josh

      c /stated/started/

      March 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Johnny Mo

      I think that comment says more about you than the Roman Church or God.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Johnny Mo

      Sorry, that comment was meant for the one below. my bad.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  19. FZMello

    Ladies and gentlemen,... please. You have to give them a break. Tone down about the pedophilia for a while. Just how strong do you expect them to be? They're only human, after all. Even their all-powerful deity was a complete disaster, as far as "parental" responsibility goes, knowingly leaving his "beloved children" with an agent of his immortal enemy and all. And when presented with the opportunity to make things right again, instead, he chose to condemn all of mankind in his infinite wisdom and Immaculate Avoidance. So what if you yourself could do better. You have no right to pass judgement on the infinite, no matter how irrational and imaginary it is!

    March 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • tas20036

      LOL

      You get it.

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

      Clever and moronic at the same time. How cute ... and irrelevant.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Johnny Mo

      FZ, your post says more about you than it does about God or the Roman Church. May God show mercy to His church... and to you.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  20. Tamars

    the catholic church is showing how antiquated it is. why is there no regular gathering – maybe a biannual conference where everyone attends so that they know each other on a regular basis? the keeping apart is what makes the church so unresponsive to revision. it's tragic. as if they'll get to know each other very well in the next few weeks....

    March 7, 2013 at 3:10 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.