VATICAN CITY -- The cardinals of the Catholic Church met twice today but didn't set a date for the conclave, in part because 12 of the 115 cardinal electors hadn't arrived in Rome yet.
They are gathering to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated on Feb. 28 at age 85, citing lack of strength to continue the job. Before leaving office he wrote new rules that would allow the conclave -- voting -- to begin sooner than the previously required 15 days from the end of the last papacy.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., said he didn't perceive any sense of urgency among the bishops to speed up the date of the conclave. Once they enter it there will be no formal time to discuss issues facing the church, though the cardinals may speak among themselves at night.
"I really don't have a date in mind when all this should start, but I do think that the idea of having these several days to hear what anyone wants to say is very important," he said.
All cardinals, not just the electors under the age of 80, attend the general meetings that began today. The meetings provide an opportunity for them to discuss issues of importance to the church. Simultaneous translation into Italian, French, German, Spanish and English is provided in the vast, semicircular auditorium. Of 207 cardinals of all ages, 142 were at the morning session.
There is some question about whether Pope Benedict's new rule meant that a conclave could be held earlier than 15 days after his resignation if all the electors were present to attend it, or that all electors must be present even to make the decision to hold the early conclave. Cardinal Wuerl said the consensus among the cardinals was for the latter interpretation.
The fact that Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago held a press conference during their lunch break was a major difference from the official media silence prior to the conclave of 2005. That time, reportedly at the urging of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- who was elected Pope Benedict -- the cardinals engaged in a media blackout.
This time those in charge supported giving the media a general idea of what was going on, as long as the cardinals didn't break their oath not to reveal the substance of the discussions. Much of the morning session was taken up with a reading of the rules for the conclave, learning to use the electronic equipment and each cardinal individually taking the oath of secrecy as he knelt before a crucifix with his hand on a book of the gospels.
Despite the oath, the plan is to "try to remain in contact with the press until, of course, the conclave begins," Cardinal George said.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510. First Published March 4, 2013 12:15 AM