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Nation/World

March 9, 2013

Catholic cardinals set Tuesday as start date for conclave

VATICAN CITY — The preliminaries over, Catholic cardinals are ready to get down to the real business of choosing a pope. And even without a front-runner, there are indications they will go into the conclave Tuesday with a good idea of their top picks.

Then it will be just a matter of agreeing on one man to lead the church and tackle its many problems.

The conclave date was set yesterday during a vote by the College of Cardinals, who have been meeting all week to discuss the church’s problems and priorities, and the qualities the successor to Pope Benedict XVI must possess.

That said, there doesn’t appear to be a front-runner, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including governance within the Holy See itself.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pre-conclave meetings had given the cardinals a chance to discuss the “profile, characteristics, qualities and talents” a future pope must have.

Those closed-door deliberations, he said, provided an opportunity for discussion and information-gathering so the cardinals could go into the conclave ready to cast their ballots. “The preparation is absolutely fundamental,” Lombardi said.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, agreed, noting that without this week’s meetings the conclave “could drag on.”

“The preference is to have enough discussions previous so that when people go to the conclave, they already have a particular idea of who they’re going to vote for,” he told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.

Then it’s a matter of consensus-building in order to reach the two-thirds majority needed to elect a pope — a process that for the past century has taken no more than a few days.

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