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. pumpthepope

    Fantasyland, pathetic, Safe Harbor for molesters and creeps,, lets do something important, say like, wash our cars

    March 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  2. drew104

    I don't understand why it takes so long to choose a pope...it doesn't take that long to check the pedophile database...or does it?!?!?! 0_o

    March 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • me

      The Cardinals are all in their 70s and 80s so they are not exactly good with managing databases.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  3. MW

    ‎"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."

    -C.S. Lewis

    March 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • OOO

      So sad for C.S. Lewis. There is almost certainly no god, and he just couldn't deal with it.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • me

      Its strange that someone who is capable of writing such fun children's fantasy novels is so bad at thinking logically. Maybe CS Lewis ust never taken a physics or chemistry class.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  4. Gerald Hoefen

    i apply for job but dont think i got anoth senority only 59 years as catholic

    March 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  5. jackson

    Seven days is "what's taking too long"?????

    Have they seen our Presidential primary season????

    March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Pope on the Rope

    Who's on the rope to be Pope?
    I wish they'd hurry up and elect that Antichrist and get it over with! Let the Great Tribulation begin in earnest!

    March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  7. Dominic

    A bunch of me wearing dresses say that women cannot be ordained. Am I missin something here?

    March 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Dominic

      Should read "a bunch of MEN wearing dresses"....

      March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Blanca

      Haha "me wearing dresses". Good one, Karma.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Strictly Pentecostal

      I wonder who does wear the pants in the Catholic Church?

      March 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  8. Kevin

    They should settle this with a no holds barred over the top rope elimination wrestling match...last Cardinal standing becomes Pope.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • jon

      My guess was the Cardinals are masturbating too much and not enough time for voting.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Pope on the Rope

      They can't keep the Cardinals out of the Convents long enough to get anything done!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  9. Norm

    God doesn't just stop what He's doing and immediately answer their prayers.
    They have to wait until He's good and ready to contact them.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • OOO

      It's good that we have Norm to tell us how god thinks. Don't know what we'd do without him.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Sharon Delaney

    The one constant in CNN's Belief blog is that it is not just anti-religion, it is hostile to religion, believers, and in particular, Catholic Christians. The other constant is that it is where people go when they feel like bashing anyone who does believe and no one feels the need to have manners or tolerance for one another's differences. This also includes its editorial contributors. If the Catholic church is irrelevant to you, then why write about it? Why do Catholics irk you to the point of cherry picking facts, taking cheap shots, and writing about something negative every chance you get? Smells more like an personal agenda than journalism.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • wow

      They must be getting lots of your $ for you to waste your time responding to the peanut gallery.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • JJ

      Your pedophile infested cult isn't irrelevant to non-believers because descent people care about the children in your cult and care about their welfare. Someone has to.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Pope on the Rope

      Catholics irk me because they have tried to rule the world behind the scenes for over 1500 years and murdered millions of innocent men, women, and children in the process!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • pablo

      Perhaps if the whole molestation thing didn't exist. Perhaps if they didn't try to influence laws regarding birth control and choice upon ALL of us. Perhaps if they did not view women as subservient and a pain in the ass when they don't agree publicly with exactly what the men in dresses say. It goes on....
      Can you honestly say you support such an organization? Would you support anyone, any group with a history of incredible abuse? No one is bashing you! Their bashing the organization you so love and everything they stand for, espouse and the heinous acts they commit while looking out for no one but their own interests.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  11. magscanner

    They've started out by disqualifying half the Catholics in the world. Why not choose a woman? We've not been well-served by the recent men chosen. I still think you should read Yarbro's book "Magnificat"

    @footloose33: I'm a guy. I happen to like women. I also think they're the only way to find someone not already compromised by the corrupted Vatican bureaucracy.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • me

      They've started out by dismissing the 99.9999% of Catholics that aren't Cardinals. Letting women become pope would be nice, but the Catholic Church is still a dictatorship. It's sad that a dictatorship like the Vatican is still allowed to exist in the heart of Europe.

      March 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  12. GLIFEX

    They take time for everything. Its been like that always. That is why they are so behind in time. They should let the younger generation of priests etc lead the church.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • Joe__Blow

      How about if they just shut the place down, call it quits? Do YOU need them? I don't.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  13. creative36

    Why would people listen to someone dressed in a clown costume?

    March 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Joe__Blow

      And with that ridiculous cap!!!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Balls of Steel

      People listen to you and you are a clown.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • matt

      Why do people listen to a man in a suit in an oval office?

      March 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  14. Joe__Blow

    Pope, Papacy.. IRRELEVANT, ANACHRONOUS, IMMATERIAL.. Give it up!

    March 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Thesaurus much?

      Don't use too many of those words you do not understand 😉

      March 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  15. wow

    I am one of 1.2 billion people who are lost without the new guy telling me what to do. I just went poop and I forgot what to do. I hope it doesn't start to itch like in 2005. HURRY!

    March 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Joe__Blow


      March 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  16. Jason

    Whoops I thought it said why choosing a Pipe takes so long. Nevermind.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  17. Willie

    Of course it takes a long time....they have to figure out who has molested the least amount of boys.

    March 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  18. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Pope Sidious I

    March 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  19. B.

    Mythology involves lots of people that have to make-up their minds about it..

    The biggest ongoing fraud ever perpetrated on mankind!

    March 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Truth

      part of evolution is to keep us alive. We instinctively become good to preserve those we love and ultimately humanity. We also thin the herd.

      Our brains developed as a result of finding nourishment, through need.

      That's how evolution works.

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

      Great comment.. Yes – the biggest and longest-running, continuous one as well. Sheeple are so ignorant..

      March 7, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • matt

      Shame that Christian and deist "frauds" came to this country for freedom and later establish one of the most wonderful countries to live in today.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  20. chris

    You know, all the pedo jokes really aren't funny. It is a disgrace that these things have happened and still do. Please understand the importance of NOT desensitizing the subject.

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

      They aren't meant to be funny. They are meant to be bitter and angry.

      They are aimed at an organization that has no problem pointing fingers at other people and claiming their immorality is sending them to hell, all the while they do absolutely ZERO about the immorality in their own house.

      And, while they practice that blatant hypocrisy, more and more and more and more children get robbed of their innocence.

      March 7, 2013 at 4:56 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.