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Prayers, Oaths Of Secrecy As Catholic Cardinals Meet

As they begin the process that will lead to selection of the next pope, the Roman Catholic Church's cardinals must first decide just when to officially start deciding, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reminds us from Rome this morning.

Basically, as Sylvia says, the first order of business for the cardinals who have gathered at the Vatican is "choosing which day to start the closed-door conclave that will elect the new pope." And there are differences of opinion, she notes:

"Members of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that's at the heart of numerous scandals, want it as soon as possible. Many foreign cardinals, like Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, want more time to discuss the new challenges and to get to know each other."

The cardinals, writes the BBC, began today's meeting with "prayers and ... oaths of secrecy." It adds that "there will be a series of daily meetings leading up to a conclave, expected to begin next week, in which a new pope will be chosen."

According to the Whispers in the Loggia blog, which tries to keep very close tabs on what happens in Vatican City:

"The General Congregation having opened at 9.30 this morning, the first daily gathering of all the cardinals – over-80s included – is set to run 'til 1.30. After a break for lunch and riposo, an unusual evening session will start at 5.30.

"As of last hearing, an announcement on a Conclave start-date is deemed likely to not emerge today. Under the norms of the 11th-hour motu proprio which now allows the college to ditch the standard 15-day waiting period from the moment a vacancy is triggered, all participating cardinal-electors must be present before the body can debate and eventually set the timetable by a majority vote."

National Catholic Reporter says there were 142 cardinals at the Vatican Monday. About 115 will be able to vote in the election of the new pope (those who are 80 years old or older aren't eligible). It adds that:

"Vatican spokespersons were asked several times during Monday's [news] briefing to elaborate on the Vatican's response to Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who admitted Sunday he had had improper sexual contact with priests.

"The Scottish, said one Scottish reporter, 'are not very happy' with the explanation of O'Brien's resignation, asking what additional disciplinary action might be taken by the Vatican.

"In response, Rosica read aloud from O'Brien's statement Sunday, adding: 'That's all we can say. That's what's been said.' "

If you need to catch up on why Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign, what happens next and some of the latest thinking on who might be the next pope, our coverage is collected here. For a graphical look at how a pope is elected, check this package from The Washington Post.

We'll keep an eye on the news from Rome this week and next.

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