VATICAN CITY —- The Vatican press office said Friday the election process for the next pope, known as the papal conclave, would begin on Tuesday, March 12.
The announcement was made shortly before 11 a.m. Central time.
Earlier, Rev. Federico Lombardi speculated the conclave would begin early next week, but would not be convened over the weekend.
It has been widely reported that divisions among the cardinals over how much time they needed to deliberate the various challenges facing the Catholic Church have delayed the pre-conclave meetings.
The so-called “general congregations” have been underway for four days, and while many European cardinals have expressed an interest in concluding the talks and beginning the conclave, some American and other prelates have suggested there should be no rush. Some have stressed the desire to take time and carefully consider the scandals facing the Vatican and how the new Church leadership should address them.
French Cardinal Vingt Trois told CBS News as he emerged from the first round of discussions Friday morning that no decision had yet been made on a date, as “everybody wants to speak.”
The last cardinal to show up for the general congregations was Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, who arrived late Thursday.
“Hopefully it will be a short conclave and start very soon,” Germany’s Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes was quoted Wednesday as telling a German newspaper. “I would compare it with a visit to the dentist—you want to get everything over with quickly.”
Contrary to that sentiment, South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfred Napier told CBS News earlier this week that the pre-conclave talks couldn’t be rushed because, after all, the next pope was in the room.
“When we do reach the point of selecting a pope, we will have a much fuller idea of what kind of challenges he is going to have to lead the church into,” Napier said, adding that he doesn’t think anyone is feeling rushed to make a decision.
The Italian press has painted the division as a schism between the largely European Vatican-based cardinals and those from the Americas, Asia and Africa, who have been more interested in airing their concerns over alleged Church corruption and mis-management in the pre-conclave talks.
Once the conclave begins, the talking is over. The ritual election process allows for virtually no banter or debate as the prelates repeatedly cast their secret, handwritten ballots until a pope is elected with at least a 77-vote majority from the available 115 cardinal electors.