Category: Media & Culture / March 11, 2013 11:53 AM EDT
With just 24 hours to go until the start of the conclave to elect a new pope, speculation about the length and outcome of the secret meetings in the Vatican were rife on Monday (March 11).
Cardinals were holding their final pre-conclave meeting where they were thought to be discussing the state of their Church, left reeling by the abdication of Pope Benedict last month and struggling to deal with a string of sexual abuse and corruption scandals.
The 115 cardinal electors under the age of 80 will enter the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday (March 12) afternoon and hold one vote that evening. They will vote up to four times a day thereafter until one of their number receives a two-thirds majority, or 77 votes.
But they will have an early start to the day with traditional processions and masses taking place before the conclave begins officially.
"Well first they'll go in and they'll have a mass in St Peter's Basilica, this will be very solemn. They'll process in, they'll have a mass and they'll process out with a litany of the saints both east and west," Kim Daniels, the Director of the Catholic Voice USA, told Reuters Television
"After that they will go back to their residence hall and then come back in the afternoon, go to the Pauline Chapel and then again process in to the Sistine Chapel, where they will have their first vote."
If a pope is not elected in two or three days it likely indicates the cardinals are probably severely divided and might have to turn to a dark horse candidate to find consensus.
"Hundreds of years ago what happened is one pope took almost three years to be elected and because of that they threatened to lock the cardinals into a room and only feed them bread and water. That doesn't happen anymore," Daniels added.
"Right now what's happening is probably in the modern era three days is about the limit, so we are looking for something to happen this week."
No conclave has lasted than more than five days in the past century. Pope Benedict was elected within barely 24 hours in 2005 after just four rounds of voting. But this time, no clear favourites have emerged to take the helm of the troubled Church.
It was unclear how much the geographical distribution of the cardinals would weigh. Sixty cardinals come from Europe, including 28 Italians, while there are 19 from Latin America, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 10 Asians and one from Oceania.
Some commentators have suggested that the next pope could come from Latin America, with Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer from Brazil top of that possible list.
"Latin America has a large number of Catholics from all over the world," Brazilian priest Joao Maria do Nasicimento told Reuters.
"If we speak from our point of view, people will be able to see that in the Catholic church in Latin America, like in any other region, there are difficulties. I believe, because of the diversity, people will be able to visualise positive things for the church," he added.
The lack of a clear favourite has left some questioning how consensus might be reached.
"We will see what happens. I don't know what will happen. It's a mess because there are so many of them and they don't know how they are going to make a decision," one Italian woman, Fernanda Stefanini, said.
Many of the Italian cardinals work within the Vatican bureaucracy, which has come under heavy criticism in recent years because of infighting and perceived incompetence.
"It's the continuity of 2,000 years or however long it's been," Huw Lloyd, a tourist from Wales, said.
"I don't think this pope (Benedict) was as charismatic as the last one (John Paul II) and I think perhaps the church is looking for, well, I don't know what the Roman Church is looking for, it's change but more of the same," he added.
Italians held the papacy for 455 years before the 1978 election of Polish-born Pope John Paul.
(Video Source: REUTERS)