Conclave for new pope nears, Sistine Chapel closed

March 5, 2013 8:05:07 PM PST
The cardinals would like to have a new pope by Palm Sunday but they're not imposing a deadline on themselves.

The clearest sign yet that a papal election is nearing has arrived, with the Sistine Chapel announcing it is closing to visitors.

Tuesday, we're getting a better idea of what will go on behind the scenes when the time comes to elect a new pope.

We're still waiting for all the cardinal electors to show up in Rome, and that's one reason why there is still no date set for the conclave to elect a pope.

One thing is for sure: These cardinal meetings are quite different from your typical business meeting.

"We're going according to plan, although there is no plan," said Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago.

That may be the most unusual part of these cardinal get-togethers. There is no agenda. Yes, they know they're heading toward setting a conclave date... eventually.

"Basically because we're not ready, but my understanding was we shouldn't even begin to discuss until everyone is here," said Cardinal George. "Were they here, still wouldn't be ready, I don't think."

Cardinal George is among 11 American cardinal electors. He is a veteran of this process, so his opinion carries weight, especially among younger cardinals.

Cardinal George says the list of potential pope candidates is changing.

"Some people are coming forward that you haven't been talking about," Cardinal George said. "That's interesting to me, and others are waxing and waning depending upon who you speak with."

With the Sistine Chapel closed to the public, workers will now install a false floor with equipment to jam electronic communications or prevent spying.

And the small stove and chimney will be readied. That's where the ballots will be burned, sending the signal of black smoke, no pope yet, or white smoke when a new pope is picked.

The cardinals want to spend as little time in the chapel conclave as possible, so they are making a time investment now.

"Hopefully there are enough discussions so that when people go to the conclave, they'll have a pretty good idea who they would vote for," said Sean Cardinal O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston.

A candidate needs a two-thirds majority to become pope.