VATICAN CITY -- With the decision finally to hold the conclave next week, on Tuesday, and not sooner, experts said Cardinals may be feeling uncertainty heading into the weekend as they prepare to elect the successor to Benedict XVI.
"There's no strong slate of candidates. What Cardinals told us all this week was they would hold these meetings until they felt they had a list narrowed down,” said Dennis Coday, editor at the National Catholic Reporter.
Cardinals will pray for guidance at St Peter's Basilica Tuesday morning when they celebrate the Pro Eligendo mass, literally a mass for an election. Then, they lock themselves inside the Sistine Chapel and hold at least one vote. If there's no decision, Cardinals on Wednesday will hold the traditional two votes in the morning and two votes in the afternoon. They could move into their conclave residence as soon as Monday. That's the Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City, just a short walk from the Sistine Chapel.
The big question now is how long will it take to elect the next pope? Coday said the mood is strikingly different from when Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI.
"What we've been told by veterans from 2005, is that 48 hours before the conclave opened, there was a feeling or there was a surge toward consensus, a feeling early on that it would go to Joseph Ratzinger, but they're saying they're not feeling that," said Coday.
The longest conclave ever was back in the 13th century when it took three years to pick the successor for Pope Clement the 4th who had died. That was due to political infighting among the cardinals. Since the early 1800s, no conclave has lasted more than four days. Church officials and cardinals themselves want a new pontiff by Easter Sunday.