Several commentators have noted that there are ecclesiological, not to say political aspects behind the decision of when to begin the conclave.
First the cardinals meet for “general congregations” – these are now in progress – and then when the start date is set, the cardinals begin the conclave itself. Pope Benedict XVI gave the cardinals the possibility of starting the conclave sooner than the 15 days foreseen after the death of a pope. Setting a conclave start date is an important first task of the general congregation.
The word on the street is that the curial cardinals in Rome favor an early start date because this gives them more ability to control the process. The Romans (whatever their nationality) know all the cardinals from around the world (from their visits to headquarters) and so are in the best position to orchestrate campaigns for favored candidates. But a later start date allows the cardinals from Everywhere Else to get to know each other better and take charge of the thing.
It’s hard not to think of the politics of the Second Vatican Council, even if the comparison is a bit overwrought. The Romans in the curia prepared reactionary drafts for the Council documents, hoping that the world’s bishops would quickly rubber stamp it all and then go away. But the bishops got organized, rejected the curial drafts, took charge of the Council, and voted in new slates of people to re-write the documents. The rest is history. But as I say, the comparison is overwrought.
Cardinal Sodano (he would be a Roman, big time) has wanted to move the conclave process along, and so he decided there would be two general congregations yesterday on Day 1, one in the morning and one (this sounds funny to Amis but it’s a Roman way of scheduling) at 5:30 pm. Gotta get this thing over and done.
Now I see that the cardinals have decided to hold but one meeting in coming days. What do you suppose they will they do all afternoon and evening? Get to know to each other better? Or go to their rooms and study Roman documents to get a better sense of the curia’s priorities for the next pontificate?
General congregation hasn’t set a start date for the conclave yet. They can’t – not all the cardinal electors are present yet to hold the vote.
I see that the six German cardinals didn’t even make it to Rome for Monday’s morning meeting, but two of the six Germans showed up for the evening session. That leaves four still to arrive. Conclave start date can’t be set until they make it.
What’s taking the Germans? Why are they causing the start date to be delayed? I’m sure it’s because it’s so very far from Germany to Rome, and the mountain passes are treacherous. No?
Meanwhile, Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury has wisely urged the faithful to “take no part” in “punditry” about who the next pope will be: “The days before us surely demand of Catholics not punditry, but prayer!” I see his point. Running the Church, being concerned about the Church’s mission going forward – this is the work of bishops and cardinals, not the rest of us. We should keep our nose out of it and just stick to our prayers. Whose Church is this, anyway? Do go read his comments. Then you might decide not to read this post, or others like it.