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Vatican set for Pontiff vote

AS the 115 voting cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church file into the Sistine Chapel today to elect the next Pope, at least some of the chaos and confusion caused by Benedict XVI's resignation has cleared.

Last week, as the last of the cardinals straggled into Rome from cities all over the world, there was a sense of rudderlessness: many of the cardinals barely knew each other and had had little time to talk things over.

Lacking the usual period of mourning during which discreet lobbying and canvassing normally gets under way, the Church seemed to have been bumped into a process for which it was quite unready.

But yesterday, with the conclusion of the 10th and final pre-Conclave congregation of cardinals, some clarity was finally emerging.



The cardinals know the Church needs a Pope with global vision, a good communicator, a man with the energy and ability to get to grips with a Vatican bureaucracy whose corruption was exposed in the VatiLeaks scandal. And they need a Pope committed to drawing a firm line under the scandal of sex abuse which has rocked the Church to its foundations.

Last week the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) published a damning list of cardinals who they claim are tainted by their failure to get a grip on the scandal.

Papal spokesman Father Lombardi insisted "Snap does not elect the Pope", but he and all other insiders are well aware of how the scandal continues to tear the Church apart.

Today there is still no equivalent of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went into the 2005 Conclave a favourite and emerged at the fourth ballot as Pope Benedict XVI, but the list of favourites has slimmed down to half a dozen or so, including Latin Americans, Europeans, Africans and at least one Asian.

But the fact that, for the first time, the possibility of a Yankee Pope was being taken seriously indicates how open the race remains.

The first vote is expected at 6pm Irish time today, but Father Lombardi was quick to stress it is unlikely to be decisive. "It's difficult for the Conclave's first vote to have a positive outcome," he said. "In 2005, the smoke emerged late, at 8.04pm, and it was black, as we all remember."

And so the wait for the white smoke begins. It is one of the most ancient elections in the world, the supposedly decisive role of the Holy Spirit being only one of its peculiarities.

To ensure the post-Conclave unity of the Church and prevent schisms, the cardinals are locked away from the outside world for the duration of the Conclave. Until 2005, the lock-in was quite literal, with the cardinals confined in the Sistine Chapel.

This time around, for only the second time, they will enjoy the simple hospitality of a hospice within Vatican City, St Martha's House, and will be bussed to and from the chapel.



But the security imperative has taken on new force in the internet age, with all telephones and other devices confiscated, electronic jammers fitted in the chapel and the cardinals warned that any breach could be punished by excommunication.

The paraphernalia of the Conclave is all now in place: a copper flue has been run up the walls of the chapel, exiting below Michelangelo's Last Judgment to emerge within view of St Peter's Square, where thousands of Romans and many of the 5,600 journalists covering the Conclave will gather twice daily, before noon and 7pm, to await the white smoke. This will confirm two-thirds of cardinals have voted the same way and "habemus papam" – "we have a Pope".

Unless there is a deadlock, the election is likely to be over by the end of the week, giving the new man just days to prepare to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics through Holy Week to Easter.