Last lap; after pope’s exit, attention shifts to conclave

VATICAN CITY — On Tuesday, the Holy See revealed the name Pope Benedict XVI will use after he leaves office and the shoes he will wear during his retirement in the Vatican gardens. On Wednesday, Benedict delivered an emotional farewell performance and took a last spin in the Popemobile. And on Thursday, he bid adieu to his cardinals and officially exited the scene at 8 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — On Tuesday, the Holy See revealed the name Pope Benedict XVI will use after he leaves office and the shoes he will wear during his retirement in the Vatican gardens. On Wednesday, Benedict delivered an emotional farewell performance and took a last spin in the Popemobile. And on Thursday, he bid adieu to his cardinals and officially exited the scene at 8 p.m.

Now, on to the main event.

The conclave, Latin for “with a key,” is a process in which voting-age cardinals are shut in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope. “I’m asked when it will be 10 times a day, at least,” said the somewhat exasperated Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi.

The timing matters, not just for news organisations but for the cardinals, who bear the responsibility of picking a leader with the best chance of addressing the monumental challenges facing the church.

“A shorter time span before the conclave starts favors the well-known faces,” said John Thavis, a longtime church reporter and the author of “The Vatican Diaries.” Because cardinals rarely assemble as a single body, the top prelates who serve as officials in the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the Vatican, are the most familiar. They have the opportunity to meet — some skeptics might say glad-hand — out-of-town voters whenever they are in Rome.

Potential beneficiaries include power players such as Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, a Vatican grandee with Italian lineage; Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and the long-shot Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who is also mentioned on papal shortlists, said Tuesday that the cardinals should start the conclave as soon as possible. “The church in its wisdom and experience, and in accordance with a very strict code, is moving towards the earliest possible conclave,” he said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

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