Vatican Swiss guards salute as cardinals arrive for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. Cardinals from around the world have gathered inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI's decision to retire. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope, signaling that they were wrapping up a week of discussions about the problems of the church and who best among them might lead it.
The conclave date was set on Friday afternoon during a vote by the College of Cardinals. Tuesday will begin with a Mass in the morning in St. Peter's Basilica, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.
In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.
That said, there doesn't appear to be a front-runner in this election, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including of governance within the Holy See itself.
According to Vatican analysts and even some cardinals themselves, the list of papabili, or those considered to have the stuff to be pope, remains relatively unchanged from when Benedict XVI first announced he would resign Feb. 28. But some Italian media have speculated that with governance such a key issue in this conclave, the cardinals might also be considering an informal pope-secretary of state "ticket."
The Vatican secretary of state is primarily responsible for running the Holy See, but it's not an elected job like the pope. It's a papal appointment, and will be a very closely watched papal appointment this time around given the stakes.
Also Friday, the cardinals formally agreed to exempt two of their voting-age colleagues from the conclave who in past weeks had signaled they wouldn't come: Cardinal Julius Darmaatjadja, emeritus archbishop of Jakarta, who is ill, and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned last week after admitting to inappropriate sexual misconduct.
That formality brings the number of cardinal electors to 115; a two-thirds majority -- or 77 votes -- is required for victory. Benedict in 2007 changed the conclave rules to keep the two-thirds majority requirement throughout the voting process after Pope John Paul II had decreed that after about 12 days of inconclusive balloting the threshold could switch to a simple majority.
By reverting back to the traditional two-thirds majority, Benedict was apparently aiming to ensure a consensus candidate emerges quickly and ruling out the possibility that cardinals might hold out until the simple majority kicks in to push through their candidate. His decision might prove prescient, given the apparent lack of a front-runner in this conclave.