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Cardinals look to conclave after pope's resignation


Cardinals look to conclave after pope's resignation

Agence France Presse • March 1 2013

Vatican City: Catholic cardinals from around the world were summoned Friday to meetings that will set a date for a conclave to elect a new pope, the day after Benedict XVI's historic resignation.

The dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, sent out formal invitations to the "pre-conclave general congregations" starting on Monday at 9:30 am (0830 GMT).

Only once all the cardinals have arrived in Vatican City from the four corners of the world -- from Argentina to Vietnam -- will they set a date for the secret conclave to elect the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, the invitation states.

Only those under 80 are eligible to vote, and 115 are expected to kick off the conclave to be held in the hallowed Sistine Chapel with its Michelangelo frescoes in the first half of March.

Among Benedict's last actions as pope was to authorise the cardinals to move the date forward from the traditional 15 to 20 days following his departure, since they are not mourning a dead pope.

Also Friday, marking the start of the "Sede Vacante" or Vacant See, the Vatican post office issued a special set of stamps for use until the next pope is elected.

Benedict's eight-year papacy came to an end at 1900 GMT on Thursday with visually potent symbolism when the great wooden doors of the Castel Gandolfo papal residence near Rome -- where he will spend the first two months of his retirement -- swung shut.

The cardinals' preliminary meetings may help narrow down the field of "papabili" -- potential popes -- ahead of the conclave.

Already the profile of the ideal next pontiff is coming into focus: that of a charismatic but tenacious man with good communication skills, capable of re-uniting a fractious Church, stamping down on scandals and re-igniting faith among the young.

But no single cardinal seems to fit the description, and analysts say the fault lines among the cardinals divide conservatives and moderates, Vatican insiders and the dioceses, traditionalists and reformers.

Among the front-runners are Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola, 72, and Marc Ouellet, the 67-year-old former archbishop of Quebec who heads the influential Congregation of Bishops.

The next pope's desk will be laden with tough dossiers, from Catholic reformers calling for women clergy and an end to priestly celibacy, to growing secularism in the West and ongoing scandals over sexual abuses by paedophile priests going back decades.

The wheels began turning towards the holding of the conclave as tributes accumulated for the 85-year-old Benedict after his historic move, which could set a precedent for ageing popes in the future.

"Farewells made with courage, humility and grace," ran a headline on an editorial in the German conservative daily Die Welt.

"This is how great popes go," said Italian daily Il Messaggero, hailing the "greatness of his humility, the simple step of a pilgrim" -- echoing the retiring pope's parting words on Thursday that he would revert to being a "simple pilgrim".

La Repubblica daily said Benedict's troubled eight-year reign had ended abruptly "not with an apocalypse, but with the sigh of relief of a man who became man again."

The former pope Benedict will now be known as "Roman pontiff emeritus" or "pope emeritus" -- a completely new title created especially for this new situation.

He will still be addressed as "Your Holiness".

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