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. Milton Platt

    Why don't they put all the names in a hat and let god choose....

    March 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Shelby Melbourne

    Duh! Because thry can't find one that "is without sin". HELLO!!!! They are all pedophiles and/or sinners! They would have just as much success looking under a rock to find a slimy moron to run the church!

    March 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
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    March 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  4. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    The decomposing underbelly of the RCC and all the other religions has been exposed. There is no "pope-cure" as the white sheet has been unfolded over the stupidity of it all.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  5. McRCN

    It is amazing all the nasty things people feel the need to say about the Catholic church on this forum. Most folks seem to be stuck on one issue, which I can understand to some extent and I agree the people running the church need to do a better job of dealing with the issue. However, the Catholic Church does so many positive things for people all around the world and that should never be forgotten.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Kulet

      Hamas feeds the poor

      March 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Religion

      One issue...really? Tens of thousands of children molested, thousands of clergy participating in cover up after cover up and this is one minor issue? We just found out that the church has also been laundering money for the mob.

      Does one have to check their brain at the door to continue to belong to such a religion?

      March 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Frank M.

      You have got to be kidding me or living under under a rock. The catholic church is disgraced by the scandal of what they have done to boys for years, many years & the just as disgraceful cover up. Wake up.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • notogop

      You are 100% correct. However, in a criminal trial, the defense can bring forward all those wonderful character witnesses it desires to laud the good deeds done the the accused and often are taken into consideration by the judge/jury. However, the pervasive coverup perpetrated by the Church, at all levels, has made it almost impossible to bring the guily to trial and has systematically bought off those who have gone to trial. To me, that greatly mitigates the good done by the Church, since they allow the criminal activity to continue. They have even gone so far as to hide their wealth to avoid paying judgments.This was advised by the Vatican. Now, how good is the Catholic Church?

      March 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • JJ

      So, you're basically saying..."sure, we've raped tens of thousands of children over the years but have you seen what we're doing down at the soup kitchen?!"

      March 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Religion

    Will the new pope be a closet case....a pedophile.....or one of the criminals who protects pedophiles from justice?

    March 7, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  7. trying to understand

    They knew three weeks ago that Benedict was going to step down ... why didn't they start their conversations then? They'd be three weeks ahead of where they are now.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • ME II

      Ever consider that they are three weeks ahead of where they normally would be? It's only been 7 days.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  8. mlblogscbgoldsmith

    Choosing the Pope takes so long for the same reason that if you ask a strange old man on line at the Post Office if this is the Passport line an hour later he still talking. These are old forgotten men who think their hour upon the stage continues so they use all the time they can in the hope of continuing the ruse that they actually matter.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  9. notogop

    Who would want the job? You think Obama inherited a mess, this bunch of two-faced, hypercritical criminals have dug a hole so deep that Houdini couldn't escape from it. Good luck selecting a man pure enough at heart to desire the job. I know, "He who is without sin....."

    March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  10. logic56

    Don't they have to find out which candidate has the best crop of young boys to molest?

    March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  11. ken link

    I have always enjoyed waiting for the white smoke (even if i am not part of the church). With all the problems facing the church today, the i do hope that they pick someone willing to admit the problems and really work to improve the lifes of the people who beleive that these guys are placed here by God. The long and short of it is money, as the Church is one of the biggest company's in the world. It is a shame that with all that money they can not do a better job of making the world a better place to live.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  12. southernwonder

    this is much ado about nothing, really. time to sell vatican off to the highest bidder and spread the proceeds among the poors. how long must the pedo farce go on?

    March 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Jefferson Gates

      you are an idiot

      March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  13. leroy bushman

    the catholic faith is in shambles

    March 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  14. Southern Celt

    Everybody had to join the Hitler Youth. Think of it as compulsive Boy Scouts. At least he ran away from it. Get over it! The WW2 Nazis are either dead or close to it. Wiesenthal will get the rest anyway, hopefully.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      I blame the current Pope for many things, including orchestrating the coverup and enabling pedophiles – but not for that. He was a kid, he was in a dictatorship, he had no choice.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Truth

      I agree, Susan.. However you must credit all the cardinals and bishops for their share in the cover ups.

      The truth is easy to spot; Have any cardinals and bishops stood up next to victims demanding laws reveal the truth?? Nope. And it's that simple to now see they are all evil, selfish and dishonest.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  15. sally wells

    It'll be some dinosaur 'alleged' virgin who has spent his life in JC fairly.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  16. Will S

    How long does it take to choose a President?

    March 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • Truth

      the republic of material possessions needs to make sure they hire someone capable of swindling off donors, denying starving children a meal and money laundering.

      I know they have a large group capable of these,, but getting the best is what they need to continue their financial wealth and power building.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  17. Christian

    Because of all the Ego's in the way..............the catholic church is a dangerous joke

    March 7, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      and Atheist and other hate-mongers aren't a joke?

      March 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • duh

      There's one global leader of all Catholics ... last I checked, there's not a global leader of Atheists.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Tom

      You mean Richard Dawkins isn't the atheist pope??????

      March 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  18. Joep199

    I think the delay is because they don't have enough altar boys in Rome.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Johnny Mo

    Be nice everybody.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  20. blinky

    Alpha 60 for Pope. What a voice. He'll keep your dictionary pure of troublesome words. He asks all the right questions and knows the answers, anyway.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:43 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.