Cardinals set Tuesday as start date for conclave

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope, signaling that they

were wrapping up a week of discussions about the problems of the church and who best among them might lead it.

The conclave date was set on Friday afternoon during a vote by the College of Cardinals. Tuesday will begin with a Mass in

the morning in St. Peter's Basilica, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.

In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.

That said, there doesn't appear to be a

front-runner in this election, and the past week of deliberations has

exposed sharp

divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems

facing the church, including of governance within the Holy See

itself.

U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, considered a

papal contender, said in a blog post Friday that most of the discussions

in the

closed-door meetings covered preaching and teaching the Catholic

faith, tending to Catholic schools and hospitals, protecting

families and the unborn, and supporting priests "and getting more

of them!"

"Those are the 'big issues,'" he wrote. "You may find that hard to believe, since the 'word on the street' is that all we

talk about is corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money. Do these topics come up? Yes! Do they dominate? No!"

Early in the week, the Americans had been

pressing for more time to get to the bottom of the level of dysfunction

and corruption

in the Holy See's governance that were exposed by the leaks of

papal documents last year. But by Thursday afternoon, Cardinal

Roger Mahony of Los Angeles tweeted that the discussions were

"reaching a conclusion" and that a mood of "excitement" was

taking hold.

Vatican-based cardinals had been angling for a speedy end to the discussions, perhaps to limit the amount of dirty laundry

being aired.

According to Vatican analysts and even some

cardinals themselves, the list of papabili, or those considered to have

the stuff

to be pope, remains relatively unchanged from when Benedict XVI

first announced he would resign Feb. 28. But some Italian

media have speculated that with governance such a key issue in

this conclave, the cardinals might also be considering an informal

pope-secretary of state "ticket."

The Vatican secretary of state is primarily responsible for running the Holy See, but it's not an elected job like the pope.

It's a papal appointment, and will be a very closely watched papal appointment this time around given the stakes.

Also Friday, the cardinals formally agreed

to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the conclave who in

past weeks

had signaled they wouldn't come: Cardinal Julius Darmaatjadja,

emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and Scottish Cardinal

Keith O'Brien, who resigned last week after admitting to

inappropriate sexual misconduct.

That formality brings the number of cardinal

electors to 115; a two-thirds majority — or 77 votes — is required for

victory.

Benedict in 2007 changed the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds

majority requirement throughout the voting process after

Pope John Paul II had decreed that after about 12 days of

inconclusive balloting the threshold could switch to a simple majority.

By reverting back to the traditional

two-thirds majority, Benedict was apparently aiming to ensure a

consensus candidate emerges

quickly and ruling out the possibility that cardinals might hold

out until the simple majority kicks in to push through their

candidate. His decision might prove prescient, given the apparent

lack of a front-runner in this conclave.

Lombardi said a few items of business remain outstanding, including drawing lots for rooms at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel,

where the cardinals will be sequestered once the conclave begins.

On Friday, he showed a video of the room in which the new pope will sleep his first night as pontiff; it features a bed with

a heavy, dark wood headboard featuring a carved image of Christ's face. There is also a sitting area and a study.

The pope is expected to stay there for a few

weeks even after the election, since the papal apartment in the

Apostolic Palace

must be renovated. The apartment was sealed Feb. 28, just after

Benedict resigned, and cannot be reopened until the new pope

formally takes possession of it.

Lombardi explained that after an eight-year papacy, certain plumbing and electric maintenance work that had been put off must

be carried out — work that cannot begin, however, until the seal on the doors is broken.