Conclave Expected to Begin Between March 9-11

According to a Vatican official, Pope Benedict XVI likely will change the conclave start date tomorrow by a papal declaration.

The Sistine Chapel, site of the papal conclave.
The Sistine Chapel, site of the papal conclave. (photo: Wikipedia)

VATICAN CITY — The conclave to choose the next pope will likely begin between March 9 and 11.

A Vatican official speaking on background to Catholic News Agency said Feb. 24 that the dates being discussed for the start of the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor are somewhere between March 9 and 11.

The possibility of foregoing the normal 15-day waiting period for opening a conclave was raised because Pope Benedict announced Feb. 11 that he would resign on Feb. 28, giving everyone 17 days' advanced notice of his intention.

Consequently, the cardinals who will meet in conclave were given additional time to prepare, compared to the usual situation, where a papal successor is elected following the death of the previous pope.

The cardinals are not able to choose a date earlier than March 15, as the rules currently stand, but the Pope will publish a declaration tomorrow clearing the way for an accelerated timeline.

Before the conclave begins, the cardinals will hold a series of general congregations, at which they will take up any administrative items, discuss the needs of the Church and talk about who can best respond to those needs as the next pope.

During the conclave, the 117 cardinals who are under 80 years old will gather behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel and determine who the Church’s next pope will be.

If a new pope is elected, the faithful waiting in St. Peter’s Square will see white smoke coming from the chapel’s chimney; if a vote is inconclusive, the smoke will be black.