Vatican Diary / The Conclave Primaries - the Real Thing Will Only Start Today

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Betting on the cardinal who will finally receive enough votes in the conclave to become pope is almost impossible when there at least a dozen viable candidates. One bet that was almost certain, though, was that last night the first round of voting would not yield a new pontiff.

The pope is supposed to represent the entire Catholic Church, therefore the rules of the conclave are that a winner can be announced only after garnering two-thirds of the votes, and in this conclave's case that means at least 77 cardinals. Last night, the votes were divided among too many contenders for that to happen.

Influenced by American politics, there are those who call the first round "the primaries," where the leading candidates are singled out and the various camps start to coalesce. One Catholic intellectual said yesterday that "tonight the people will just send compliments to their friends, making them feel good that they got some votes. The real business will start tomorrow."

If previous assessments were accurate, the only cardinal taking the first round seriously was Archbishop of Milano Angelo Scola. His supporters believe he can receive in the first round as many as fifty votes, thereby setting him up as the ultimate winner and moving cardinals into his camp who would not have supported him, but who are anxious to prevent a split in the church if someone else was elected. That is how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI won eight years ago.

In the last conclave, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger won 47 votes in the first round, mainly from conservative-establishment cardinals and from then on he only gained support. Despite this, many Vatican observers believe that Scola's many detractors are resolved not to allow such an outcome and have already gathered an opposing bloc of forty cardinals who will not vote for him in any eventuality, denying him the 77-cardinal majority.

Scola's supporters will try and chip away at that bloc before he loses momentum and the cardinals have a chance to gather behind a different joint candidate. Most veteran watchers agree that if there are only three or four rounds of voting and a pope is elected Wednesday, then it will be Scola - but if it drags on to Thursday or even Friday, then the pope will once again not be an Italian.

People in St. Peter’s Square watching the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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