VATICAN CITY — Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope, a milestone in this unusual papal transition and an indication that even without an obvious front-runner, the cardinals have a fairly good idea of who best among them can lead the Catholic Church and tackle its many problems.
The conclave date was set on Friday afternoon during a vote by the College of Cardinals who have been meeting all week to discuss the church’s problems and priorities and the qualities a new pope must possess.
Tuesday will begin with a morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a solemn procession into the Sistine Chapel and the first round of secret balloting in the afternoon.
Only one vote is held the first afternoon. If black smoke is sent snaking out of the chapel chimney to indicate there is no immediate victor, the cardinals will retire for the day. They will return Wednesday for two rounds of balloting in the morning, two rounds in the afternoon until a pope has been chosen.
In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.