VATICAN CITY Despite intense anticipation, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church marched toward the papal election at a deliberate pace Tuesday, making clear they would not be rushed as they formulate their views on who should be the next man to lead the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics.
After two formal meetings Monday and Tuesday morning, the cardinals decided to forgo an afternoon session Tuesday to allow more time for private talk and research. They said they would keep the same measured pace Wednesday.
“The cardinals wanted time to organize themselves according to their rhythm of reflection and the need for information,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters. “They can use the time they think best.”
The unstructured time, Vatican experts said, might in fact be the cardinals’ most productive. Two-thirds of the cardinal electors do not live in Rome or come from far-flung dioceses and generally need more time to get to know one another and potential contenders for the papacy.
The slow pace, some Vatican experts speculated, might work to the benefit of candidates from outside Italy who might be intent on cleaning up widely reported instances of corruption within the Vatican bureaucracy, rather than those candidates who run Vatican business already and might want to move more quickly.
“For some, they want more discussion,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who leads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said at a later briefing. “Others are a little more impatient.”
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said the prelates were not in a hurry to break up for the conclave. He said many cardinals worried that if they go in unprepared to vote, the conclave “will drag on.”
The timing of the conclave, the closed gathering when voting for the next pope will take place, was still not set but was definitely on the cardinals’ minds. They asked that Pope Benedict XVI’s Feb. 22 order allowing the conclave to begin sooner than usual be read aloud. Normally it takes place 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope.
Meanwhile, cardinals under 80 and thus eligible to vote were still trickling in to the meetings, even although Benedict made public his intention to resign on Feb. 11 and exited his office, and the Vatican, on Thursday.
The gatherings, called the general congregation, began with 103 of the 115 voters, grew to 107 Monday and reached 110 by Tuesday. Lombardi said he was not sure what was behind the delays, but cited the case of Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite patriarch from Lebanon, who reported staying behind to attend a long-scheduled meeting of bishops before landing late Monday.
The prelates’ work is being led by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, the former No. 2 to Benedict and Pope John Paul II before him. Under his leadership, they agreed to hold a public prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday evening and sent a message expressing their gratitude to Benedict at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer home where he is staying for the next few months.
In one sign that the conclave is coming closer, workers Tuesday closed off to tourists the location of the vote, the Sistine Chapel. They will erect a wooden platform to protect the floor, install the stoves used to generate the black or white smoke indicating whether a pope has been selected and set up the rows of tables and chairs used by the red-hatted prelates in the rounds of voting.
Scores of cardinals who are over 80 are also taking part in the general congregation in the Paul VI Hall straddling the border between the Vatican City state and Italian territory. During the two-hour session Monday, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who holds the title of preacher of the papal household, gave a religious address to the cardinals, who are sworn to secrecy. (Cantalamessa drew criticism three years ago in the midst of a round of sexual abuse scandals in Europe with a Good Friday address in which he compared outrage at the scandals to anti-Semitism.)
The Vatican’s rules on papal transition stipulate that the cardinals hear two such meditations, one in the congregation and one at the start of the conclave. The contents were not released. The cardinals are also expected to hear reports on Vatican finances and diplomacy.
The pre-conclave gatherings will offer the cardinals a chance to make a case for the kind of pope they want and to size one another up at coffee breaks and later over dinner.
Some 33 cardinals had made short speeches on a first-come, first-served basis Monday and Tuesday, Lombardi said, on a “broad range” of topics. On Monday, they concerned the “activity of the Holy See” and of various departments and their relationships with bishops, the “renewal of the church in the light of the Second Vatican Council” and the needs for a “new evangelization.”
Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.