Longest Papal 'Primaries' In Church History To Close Tonight, Conclave Announcement Expected

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle sits as he waits for the start of a vespers celebration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, W
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle sits as he waits for the start of a vespers celebration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

UPDATE: The Vatican has announced that the Papal Conclave will begin on Tuesday, March 12.

At 7 p.m. (CET) this evening, following the General Congregation of Cardinals planned for this afternoon, the world will know when the conclave will begin, reports the spokesperson for the Holy See, father Federico Lombardi. During the meeting of Cardinals scheduled to start at 5 p.m., “there are plans to vote on the date when the conclave should begin,” noted father Lombardi. The day may be “Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” of next week. Tomorrow only one Congregation will be held, scheduled in the morning. On Sunday, the Cardinals will pray in their respective churches.

The Cardinals have evidently decided to apply Benedict XVI’s recent “motu propio,” which left them free to derogate a previous norm that required them to wait 15 days from the start of the sede vacante. “Finally we’re getting closer to the conclave,” admitted father Lombardi. The current General Congregations have been the longest in the history of the modern church (they began last Monday, and tonight’s Congregation will be the eighth). It is a clear sign that the various candidates for the papacy have been falling left and right like bowling pins, in a sort of stalemate that may yet reserve some surprises.

March 8 in the Vatican

This morning father Lombardi arrived in Paolo VI Hall bearing a rose and some mimosa flowers intended for the women working as translators during the Cardinals’ meeting, traditional gifts in Italy for International Women’s Day. One of the themes discussed in today’s Congregation was the one of women’s roles in the Church.

Silence in the Vatican

In the wake of suspended relations with the media that Cardinals were “strongly encouraged” to respect, it has become increasingly difficult to learn anything more about what the Cardinals are really saying to one another. Various newspapers are engaging in a papal guessing game. The extended Congregations suggest that divisions existing inside the College of Cardinals are becoming increasingly delineated. Italian daily La Repubblica suggests that there are two main candidates for the conclave: the Brazilian-born Cardinal of German origin Odilo Pedro Scherer, and the Archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola. It appears difficult, however, that foreign Cardinals, now increasingly bothered by Italian hegemony, will be willing to tolerate Scola’s close relationship with the Italian political party Comunione e liberazione, which almost automatically brings to mind the recent scandals in the Lombardy region.

An American Pope?

As far as the Americans are concerned, some have suggested that the Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan and the Archbishop of Boston Sean O’Malley are valid candidates. Both are skilled communicators -- the first is famous for his sense of humor and entertaining jokes, the second for the depth of his speeches. The obstacle to any potential American pope, however, remains the same for more than 20 years: it would create extremely serious problems for Christians in Islamic countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

Ever since the First Gulf War, in 1991, the church has been deeply afraid of being equated to the West. When President Bush senior ordered operation “Desert Storm” in Iraq, Pope John Paul II admonished the American president, saying that the war was “an adventure with no way back.” After the invasion of Iraq ordered by President Bush junior in 2003, the dangerousness of the equation “Church=West” became more threatening than ever before. The fear is that an American pope would expose Christians in the Middle East to an elevated risk of attacks and persecution, especially in countries where the United States are considered a symbol of the West to lash out against.

This piece has been translated from Italian and originally appeared on HuffPost Italy.