The Vatican on Saturday installed a special chimney on the Sistine Chapel from which white smoke will signal the election of a new pope as cardinals prepare for the historic vote next week after Benedict XVI’s resignation.
The conclave of 115 “cardinal electors” will begin on Tuesday under Michelangelo’s famous frescoes to choose the 266th pope following the abrupt end to Benedict’s eight-year papacy which was often overshadowed by scandals.French cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, told AFP in an interview that there were around “half a dozen possible candidates.”Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is seen as one favourite, along with Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer.
Other names mentioned on the rumour mill in recent days have been Hungary’s Peter Erdo, Mexico’s Jose Francisco Robles Ortega, Austria’s Christoph Schoenborn and Sri Lanka’s Albert Malcolm Ranjith.”The problem with this conclave is that there is no early frontrunner like Joseph Ratzinger in 2005,” said John Allen, a Vatican expert at the National Catholic Reporter, a US weekly.
Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, a youthful and popular cardinal, has also been mentioned as a possible.
“If there was a direct election among the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world he would win by a landslide but that is not how the Church works,” Allen said.
The decision on the date of the conclave was taken on Friday at one of a series of closed-door meetings held by cardinals over the past week to discuss the many challenges facing the next pope.Cardinals, with no new pope to defer to and no late pope to grieve over, have seized on the rare chance to air grievances against the Vatican administration and call for greater transparency.
The 85-year-old Benedict last month admitted he was too weak in body and mind to keep up with the modern world and became only the second head of the Roman Catholic Church ever to resign by choice in its 2,000-year history.”Pope emeritus” Benedict has stayed out of pre-conclave debates and is living at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome for the next couple of months, after which he will move to a former convent inside the Vatican.Vatican workers meanwhile have put the final touches on preparations for the Sistine Chapel, blacking out windows to prevent any spying on the conclave and installing scrambling devices to prevent any communication with the outside world.
Under the rules of this centuries-old tradition, cardinals have to swear a solemn oath not to reveal any details of their deliberations on pain of excommunication and the Sistine Chapel will be swept for recording devices.