Cardinals debate role of pope before 1st conclave vote

The 115 cardinals responsible for electing a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics met for the last top-secret meeting in the Vatican today in a last ditch effort to lobby their ideas for the church's future.

New church leader could be elected tomorrow after conclave begins in Rome

Cardinals gather for conclave

11 years ago
Duration 5:00
St. Peter's Square is buzzing with anticipation as 115 cardinals gather tomorrow to select a new pope, CBC’s Susan Ormiston reports

The 115 cardinals responsible for electing a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics met for the last top-secret meeting in the Vatican today in a last ditch effort to lobby their ideas for the church's future.

The cardinals debated what their expectations are for a new pope, CBC's Steven D'Souza said from the Vatican, as well as what awaits him during his time leading the religion.

They discussed whether Benedict's successor needs to play a managerial role, cleaning up the Vatican or if he needs to be more pastoral, inspiring the faithful during the religion's turbulent times.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who heads the commission of cardinals overseeing the scandal-marred Vatican bank, gave a presentation outlining the bank's activities and the Holy See's efforts to clean up its reputation in international financial circles, said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.

It was the 10th and final meeting for the papal contenders, said David Perlich, the CBC's Vatican analyst. The meeting was their last chance to talk as a group because once they enter the Sistine Chapel Tuesday morning, the focus shifts to voting.

The cardinals will attend a two-hour mass early Tuesday and then segregate themselves in the chapel, holding one vote Tuesday and up to four votes in the following days until a new pope is elected by a two-thirds majority.

Twenty-eight cardinals took the opportunity to speak at Monday's meeting, tweeted D'Souza.

Each cardinal was given about five minutes to discuss any topic of his choosing during a so-called intervention. During the 10 meetings before the conclave, 161 of these interventions took place.

But not every cardinal who wanted to speak Monday was able to, with interventions and presentations running long. When forced to vote about continuing the meeting in the afternoon, the cardinals voted against it. Instead, those who spoke shortened their comments, said Lombardi.

Three cardinals, including Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, were also selected to serve on a type of executive committee over the next three days, said D'Souza. The trio will take care of the daily business at the Vatican, as most Vatican employees have effectively lost their jobs following Benedict XVI's resignation.

Church seeks 'new direction'

Father Terence Fay, a Jesuit priest who teaches at the University of Toronto's school of theology, said Monday's meeting was the last time the papal candidates would be able to discuss the main issues facing the church.

The cardinals are in an interesting position, as all 115 men were appointed by one of the last two reigning popes: Benedict XVI or John Paul II. This means they share a fairly common mindset, said Perlich, ranging from conservative to slightly less conservative.

Top-secret proceedings

All of the 115 cardinals who will be participating in the conclave must swear never to divulge to any outsiders what happens during the proceedings, but they're not the only ones to swear an oath of secrecy.

About 90 people working with the cardinals during the conclave will swear the oath Monday afternoon. They include:

  • Confessors.
  • Doctors and nurses.
  • Maids.
  • Mini-bus drivers.

Anyone who breaks the oath is penalized by being ex-communicated from the Catholic Church.

Perlich said the differences among the cardinals will come from what they deem to be priorities for the church. Some will focus on doctrine. Others may choose to discuss how the religion interacts with other world religions.

The mood in Vatican City — among those in the church, watching the church or just visiting — seems to be that the conclave will be a historic moment, which will set the vision for the future of Catholicism.

"This could be one of those moments," said Perlich. "A chance for the church to take a true new direction for some new leadership."

Especially with a church facing significant problems around the world, including increasing accusations of sexual abuse and a financial crisis, cardinals will be looking for a way forward, he said.

No front-runner in papal race

But it's not just about the issues, said Fay. The cardinals are also looking for the best man to tackle the Catholic Church's most important issues.

At these 10 meetings, he said, the cardinals have been sizing each other up — looking not only for an individual's vision, but also whether he has the "charism," or spiritual grace, to carry the burden of a papacy.

"One of these 115 men, he doesn’t get to go home," said Perlich. "He has to stay here and he has to fix it."

Currently, there is no clear front-runner for the job, he said. Though, about 10 men are considered to be part of the papabili, meaning the leading contenders.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet's name has been mentioned as part of this group. The church has never had a Canadian pope.

Peter Mansbridge, CBC's chief correspondent, said Ouellet seems to be third in the running to be Benedict's successor, with Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola in the lead and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer as the first runner-up.

While Ouellet is in a strong position to contend for the papacy, said Mansbridge, he has not been immune to criticism. Others have questioned whether Ouellet is tough enough to clean up the sluggish Vatican bureaucracy, which has been a major point of contention in the church. It has been said Scola may not be the best to deal with it either, as his Italian roots may make him too closely associated.

"This is just like politics back home. There’s a lot of lobbying going on. A lot of manoeuvering going on," said Mansbridge from the Vatican. "They’re trying to align behind the candidate they think is would be best for the church at this time."

It is impossible to predict the future pope, said Perlich.

"Once they go into conclave, it’s anybody’s guess."

The cardinals will cast their first votes Tuesday, but it is highly unlikely a new pope will be declared after the first vote. The results of the vote are announced via emerging black smoke (if there is no winner) or white smoke (if there is a winner) from a chimney on the Sistine Chapel.

The results of Tuesday's vote are expected to be announced at 8 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET), says the Vatican.

With files from the Associated Press