ROME, Italy – After five days of general congregation meetings, the much-awaited conclave to pick the next pope will start on Tuesday, Vatican’s spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Friday.
The process will kick off with a morning Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, then the 115 cardinal electors will enter the Sistine Chapel for the first round of secret balloting in the afternoon.
If a pope is picked, white smoke will emanate from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney. If no consensus is reached, black smoke will rise — signaling another day of voting will be needed. There is only one ballot on the first day, and then the cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon until someone is picked with a two-thirds majority — at least 77 of the total 115 cardinals.
The last conclave to last more than five days was in 1831. The College of Cardinals is adamant about wanting to elect a pope before March 17, the last Sunday before Holy Week begins.
Meanwhile, the conclave decision will start as word in Rome spreads that Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63, has emerged as a favorite. Sources confirm reports in Italian media saying cardinals are split between Scherer and 71-year-old Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola.
The Italians represent the largest national block of voters, with 28 cardinals. But they may not reach a compromise. A split has emerged between reformists and the Romans.
Scola is considered a reformist, someone that would clean up the Roman curia, or the Vatican government.
Cardinal Angelo Sodono and Cardinal Tarcisio Berton, in particular, support Scherer, whom they view as a friend to the curia. Though Scherer is not Italian, he is a member of the Congregation for the Clergy, a power position within the curia.
The split vote between Scherer and Scola could usher renewed energy for the Western delegation of cardinals —made up of 11 U.S. cardinals and 19 Latin American cardinals — to support one of their own, sources say.
The Western cardinals believe they don’t need to choose an Italian or European pope, and instead should elect an outsider to clean up the church. American long-shot Cardinal Timothy Dolan is said to be in the running, as well as Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, sources said.
The cardinals will have further time to process and pray during their stay at the Cassa Santa Marta on Vatican grounds. The 108-room building offers living spaces for the cardinals. Renovations inside the Sistine Chapel are almost completed, including a makeshift elevated floor within the chapel meant to provide more safety to the cardinals.