A Tuesday conclave start date could be read as something of a compromise. Monday had been seen as an obvious choice, to ensure a pope would be elected and installed well ahead of the busy Holy Week that precedes Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday on March 24.
According to Vatican analysts, the list of papabili, or those considered to have the stuff to be pope, remains relatively unchanged since the 85-year-old Benedict first announced he would resign on Feb. 28, kick-starting the papal transition.
But some Italian media have speculated that with governance such a key issue, the cardinals might also be considering an informal pope-Vatican secretary of state "ticket." The secretary of state — who is primarily responsible for running the Holy See — is not an elected position but a papal appointment.
Also Friday, the cardinals formally agreed to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the conclave: Cardinal Julius Darmaatjadja, the emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned last week after admitting to inappropriate sexual misconduct.
That formality brings the number of cardinal electors to 115, two-thirds of whom — or 77 — must vote for the victor. Benedict in 2007 changed the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds requirement; Pope John Paul II had decreed that only a simple majority would be needed following 12 days of inconclusive balloting.
By reverting back to a two-thirds vote, Benedict was apparently aiming to ensure a consensus candidate emerges quickly, and to rule out the possibility that cardinals might hold out until the simple majority kicks in to push through their candidate. The decision may prove prescient, given the apparent lack of a front-runner in this conclave.
Lombardi said a few items of business remain outstanding, including drawing lots for rooms at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel, where the cardinals will be sequestered once the conclave begins.
On Friday, he showed a video of the room where the new pope will spend his first night as pontiff: It features a bed with a dark wood headboard and a carved image of Christ's face, as well as a sitting area and a study.
The pope is expected to stay there for a few weeks until the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace can be renovated. The apartment was sealed Feb. 28, just after Benedict resigned, and cannot be reopened until the new pope formally takes possession.
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