VATICAN CITY — Cardinals remained divided over who should be pope on Wednesday after three rounds of voting, an indication that disagreements remain about the direction of the Catholic Church following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.
In the second day of the conclave, thick black smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, prompting sighs of disappointment from the thousands of people gathered in a rain-soaked and chilly St. Peter's Square.
"I'm not happy to see black smoke. We all want white," said the Rev. ThankGod Okoroafor, a Nigerian priest studying theology at Holy Cross University in Rome. "But maybe it means that the cardinals need to take time, not to make a mistake in the choice."
The Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi insisted that the continued balloting was part of the natural course of the election and didn't signal divisions among cardinals. He noted that only once in the past century had a pope been elected on the third ballot: Pope Pius XII, elected on the eve of World War II.
"This is very normal," he said. "It's not a sign of particular divisions within the college, but rather of a normal process of discernment."
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.
That said, a conclave has rarely before taken place against the backdrop of a papal resignation and revelations of mismanagement, petty bickering, infighting and corruption in the Holy See bureaucracy. Those revelations, exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year, have divided the College of Cardinals into camps seeking a radical reform of the Holy See's governance and those defending the status quo.
After the third ballot, the cardinals broke for lunch at the Vatican hotel and were returning for another two rounds of voting Wednesday afternoon.
The drama — with stage sets by Michelangelo and an outcome that is anyone's guess — is playing out against the backdrop of the church's need both for a manager who can clean up an ungovernable Vatican bureaucracy and a pastor who can revive Catholicism in a time of growing secularism.
The difficulty in finding both attributes in one man, some analysts say, means that the world should brace for a long conclave — or at least one longer than the four ballots it took to elect Benedict in 2005.
"We have not had a conclave over five days since 1831," noted the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican," a bible of sorts for understanding the Vatican bureaucracy. "So if they are in there over five days, we know they are in trouble; they are having a hard time forming consensus around a particular person."
The names mentioned most often as "papabile" — a cardinal who has the stuff of a pope — include Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, an intellect in the vein of Benedict but with a more outgoing personality, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's important bishops' office who is also scholarly but reserved like Benedict.
Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer is liked by the Vatican bureaucracy but not by all of his countrymen. And Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary has the backing of European cardinals who have twice elected him as head of the European bishops' conference.
On the more pastoral side is Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, the favorite of the Italian press, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the back-slapping, outgoing archbishop of New York who has admitted himself that his Italian is pretty bad — a drawback for a job that is conducted almost exclusively in the language.
The American candidates, however, did get a boost of sorts on Wednesday: President Barack Obama, who has clashed with American bishops over his health care mandate, indicated the Catholic Church could certainly tolerate a superpower pope since Catholic bishops in the U.S. "don't seem to be taking orders from me."
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