Vatican: Cardinals still to arrive in Rome

Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience in St. Peter's Square on February 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Story highlights

  • Some cardinals will only arrive in Rome on Monday or Tuesday, Vatican says
  • They are gathering for a series of meetings held before the secret election for a new pope
  • The cardinals must set a date for the conclave
  • Benedict XVI resigned Thursday, the first pope to do so in decades

The cardinals who will elect the new pope following the historic resignation of Benedict XVI are continuing to make their way to Rome, the Vatican said Saturday, with some likely to arrive only Monday or Tuesday.

The first of a series of meetings known as general congregations takes place Monday morning -- and a priority for the cardinals attending will be setting a date for the special election, or conclave, held to pick the next pope.

The Vatican has said it's not sure whether a date will be agreed on as soon as Monday.

If cardinals are still arriving as the general congregations start, the timetable may be delayed.

A look at possible papal contenders

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The cardinals will also hold important discussions on the future direction of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been beset by scandal in recent years, and the kind of leader they want to see at the helm.

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All the cardinals attend the general congregations, but only cardinals who are younger than 80 are eligible to vote for the new pope in the conclave. They are expected to number 115, the Vatican has said.

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Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Saturday that 75 cardinals normally live in Rome and another 66 have arrived or are in the process of arriving, making 141 in total.

Most of the cardinals who live in Rome are retired and/or over the age of 80, and therefore are not entitled to vote for the new pope.

It's not clear how many of the cardinals now in Rome are among those who can vote.

How is the next pope elected?

The Sistine Chapel, where the cardinal-electors meet for the secretive conclave, is not yet being prepared for the process, Lombardi said.

Tourists and pilgrims are continuing to visit the Sistine Chapel -- famed for the ceiling painted by Michelangelo -- at the moment, Lombardi said.

Benedict resigned Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in six centuries, and will probably never be seen in public again.

Now known as pontiff emeritus, he will spend the next few weeks at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, before moving to a small monastery within the Vatican grounds.

He spent the first day of his retirement reading and praying, following a good night's sleep, Lombardi said Friday.