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Many of the cardinals assembled to vote for a new pope are still learning each other’s names, reports Barbie Latza Nadeau from Vatican City.

VATICAN CITY—The copper flue that rises from two stoves on the floor is in one of the most artful places in the world, but it is hardly a work of art. Pieces of pipe cobbled together with awkward bends are attached to scaffolding that reaches a crude hole in an upper wall just under Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece ceiling. Down below the two stoves sit on a piece of particleboard floor attached to the ornate marble floor with what looks a lot like gaffer tape. The older stove, where the ballots will be burned, was first used in 1939 to elect Pope Pius XII in just three votes. Small carvings along the top of the stove mark the date and number of votes for each conclave in which it was used to elect a pontiff. The last markings are from 2005, when Pope Benedict XVI was chosen in four votes. The newer stove beside it is a modern square monstrosity that looks like something you’d find hidden away in the basement of a house. It was introduced in 2005, when it was clear the new paper used for the ballots just didn’t produce enough smoke to send a clear signal out into St. Peter’s square—at least not strong enough for the world’s television cameras to capture it in high-definition. The newer stove augments the ballot smoke, which is always black unless a chemical cartridge is added to turn it white. It seems even something as traditional as the conclave can be improved by modern technology.

A video tour of the Sistine Chapel's preparation for conclave.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 115 members of the College of Cardinals will file into the sacred chapel to begin the secretive balloting that will produce a new leader for the billion members of the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinals in ceremonial vestments will sit at long tables covered in red and white linen cloths that have been hand-sewn and attached to the wood by seamstresses especially for the occasion. Above them will be Michelangelo’s ceiling, depicting nine scenes from the Book of Genesis that might serve as divine inspiration. If that doesn’t work, there is always his haunting depiction of the Last Judgment, behind the altar to their right, in which Christ is portrayed separating the blessed from the damned. Not altogether different from their own daunting task.

To choose their leader, two thirds of the cardinals must agree, meaning it will take 77 votes to elect a winner. The pope may be chosen from within the voting body or, less likely, from the group of retired cardinals who are over the age of 80 and too old to vote. The first vote will take place Tuesday evening, and those ballots will be burned around 7 p.m. local time. If no majority is reached, there will then be four votes a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The paper ballots will be burned only after the second and fourth votes—unless there is a winner. And, since everything is secretive in Vatican City, no one will know for sure whether a pope has been elected until the white smoke comes out of the chimney. Jamming devices are already in place and cardinals are not allowed to tweet, tumble, or in any way communicate with the outside world during the voting process; any who did would risk severe punishment that could even include excommunication. All those assisting with the services are also under a strict oath of secrecy, from the Swiss Guards who stand at the Sistine Chapel door to the coffee-break attendants who might hear chatter in the halls.

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Pope Fever Grips Rome

Like a Super Bowl for the faithful, the election of a new pontiff is colorful, exciting and gossip-filled. By Barbie Latza Nadeau

There is nothing like a good old-fashioned conclave to get Rome buzzing.  In the days since Pope Benedict XVI flew off by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo in the Roman foothills, the city has started its transition from hosting a farewell party for the old pope to managing the mayhem that comes with welcoming the new one.  And, like in 2005 when the sorrow surrounding the death of John Paul II gave way to optimism about the future of the Church, now that Benedict has left Vatican City, the excitement surrounding just who the next pope will be is on everyone’s mind.

Vatican

Cardinal Dominik Duka, of the Czech Republic, is escorted by police as he arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican on March 4, 2013. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The first official congregational meeting of the College of Cardinals took place on Monday as the cardinals entered the Vatican City dressed in black swaying cassocks, sashes, and red skull caps—a procession that resembled a scene from a Fellini movie. Treated like politicians or Hollywood royalty, the cardinals were flanked by flacks who tried to shield them from the cameras—or in some cases push them in front the lenses.  Reporters shouted out, “Will you be the next pope?” to smiles and winks.

Some, such as Timothy Dolan of New York, have been regular talking heads on the talk-show circuit.  Others, such as Sean O’Malley of Boston, have been blogging from the borgo off St. Peter’s Square. Campaign posters have even begun popping up around Rome, like those touting Ghanian cardinal Peter Turkson’s candidacy with a portrait of the praying prelate under the words, “Vote Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson.” There is even a faux cardinal surrounded by an entourage of impostor priests who briefly fooled the media into interviewing him before he was identified as an Australian trickster. 

PAPAL PARTY

Cardinals Meet to Choose New Pope

Cardinals Meet to Choose New Pope L'Osservatore Romano/AP

Four days after Benedict vacated papacy.

The race to replace Pope Benedict XVI has begun. Four days after the 85-year-old officially took off his papal robes, more than 100 cardinals from around the world gathered inside the Vatican Monday for the first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope. Greeted by a swarm of hungry reporters, the cardinals seemed excited about Benedict’s replacement. “A Latin-American pope is possible, everything is possible!” a Portuguese cardinal told TV crews. Preparations for the conclave will include closing the Sistine Chapel and making sure the Vatican hotel is debugged.

Read it at The Associated Press

HOLY ROLLERS

Betting on the Next Pope

In Europe, bookies and prediction markets are taking financial bets on the identity of the next pope. Who are the early favorites?

As Benedict XVI departs Saint Peter’s to begin his tenure as pope emeritus in Castel Gandolfo, the speculation over whom the College of Cardinals will pick as his successor has started to heat up. Speculation in the most literal sense—if you’re wondering who will come out after the white smoke, it might be best to follow the green.

130301-zeitline-betting-pope-tease-embed

Jessica Bridge, a spokesperson with a betting company, poses for members of the media, next to bookies' board with odds regarding the possible new Pope at the plaza outside Westminster Cathedral, in central London, on March 1, 2013. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Betting on who will take up residence in Saint Peter’s is nearly as old as the papcy itself. In 1503 it was already being referred to as “an old practice.” By 1591 Pope Gregory XIV threatened papal speculators with excommunication. This didn’t stop Italians from betting on il papa. In 1903 the Italian government lottery let citizens bet on when Pope Leo XIII would expire.

Today, the online brokers, bookies, and prediction markets are at it again. Paddy Power, the Irish online bookmaker, has already taken in over $500,000 in bets relating to the papal succession and expects “that figure to run as high as several million,” according to a Paddy Power spokesman.

EMERITUS

Pope: I’ll Be ‘Obedient’ to Successor

Pope: I’ll Be ‘Obedient’ to Successor Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty

Final words: “Thank you and goodnight.”

"Thank you and goodnight." And with that, he's done. Pope Benedict XVI delivered his farewell address Thursday, pledging “unconditional obedience and reverence” to whomever his successor will be—and also hinted at infighting in the Vatican. He left the Vatican by helicopter. Benedict, 85, who cited ill health as his reason for leaving, will first live at the papal retreat castle in Castel Gandolfo and is expected to retire to a monastery on a hill inside the Vatican. Benedict, the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, has been criticized by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell among others. But he warmly embraced Italy’s Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who currently has 3–1 odds of becoming the next pope.

Read it at BBC News

Pope: I’m ‘Not Coming Down From the Cross’ Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square with his last audience, February 27. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty)

Thousands jam St. Peter’s for last mass.

Pope Benedict XVI told an estimated 150,000 worshipers packed into St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican for his final Mass on Wednesday that he is “not coming down from the cross.” Benedict, the first pope in almost 600 years to retire, recalled the “joy” of the papacy, but also insisted that “to love the church means to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself.” Meanwhile, most of the church’s most powerful cardinals are already in the Vatican to pick Benedict’s successor, and Benedict will meet with them for the final time on Thursday morning. Oddsmakers have Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson at 11–4 odds of being the next pope, and Italy’s Archbishop Angelo Scola with 3–1 odds.

Read it at Associated Press

Did a secret cross-dressing gay sex scandal bring down Pope Benedict?

Of all the rumors floating around about just why Pope Benedict XVI is hanging up his camauro, one has taken on a life of its own. According to several well-placed vaticanisti—or Vatican experts—in Rome, Benedict is resigning after being handed a secret red-covered dossier that included details about a network of gay priests who work inside the Vatican, but who play in secular Rome. The priests, it seems, are allegedly being blackmailed by a network of male prostitutes who worked at a sauna in Rome’s Quarto Miglio district, a health spa in the city center, and a private residence once entrusted to a prominent archbishop. The evidence reportedly includes compromising photos and videos of the prelates—sometimes caught on film in drag, and, in some cases, caught “in the act.”

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI receives Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a private audience at his private library on February 16 in Vatican City. (Vatican pool photo by Alessia Giuliani)

Revelations about the alleged network are the basis of a 300-page report supposedly delivered to Benedict on December 17 by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi. According to the press reports, it was on that day that Benedict XVI decided once and for all to retire, after toying with the idea for months. He reportedly closed the dossier and locked it away in the pontifical apartment safe to be handed to his successor to deal with. According to reports originally printed by La Repubblica newspaper and the newsweekly Panorama (and followed up across the gamut of the Italian media), the crimes the cardinals uncovered involved breaking the commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the latter of which has been used in Vatican-speak to also refer to homosexual relations instead of the traditional reference to infidelity.  

The trio of cardinals who authored the report, known in the Italian press as the “007 Priests,” were commissioned by Benedict to dig into the Vatileaks scandal that rocked the Holy See last fall when the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of stealing secret papal documents and leaking them to the press. The sleuthing cardinals ran a parallel investigation to the Vatican tribunal’s criminal case against the butler, but theirs was far more covert and focused not on the mechanics of the leaks, but on who within the Roman Curia might be the brains behind them. And, according to the leaked reports, what the “007 Priests” found went far beyond the pope’s private desk. “What’s coming out is very detailed X-ray of the Roman Curia that does not spare even the closest collaborators of the Pope,” wrote respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao in Panorama. “The Pope was no stranger to the intrigues, but he probably did not know that under his pontificate there was such a complex network and such intricate chains of personal interests and unmentionable relationships.”

Whispers of late-night helicopter trips to the hospital and another sex scandal have Rome buzzing. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the conspiracy theories about why Benedict resigned.

Now that the shock of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation has settled in, conspiracy theorists are having a heyday trying to figure out if there is more to the story than meets the eye. With no papal funeral to prepare for and the pope’s final appearances fairly routine, Vatican watchers and bored reporters have been fleshing out a number of theories on why the pope may have really resigned.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI arrives for a meeting in November at the Vatican. Conspiracy theories about why he resigned are flying. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty)

While the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal was obviously a huge weight on the pope’s shoulders, Vatican watchers say it was actually the VatiLeaks butler saga and allegations of impropriety at the Vatican Bank that played more important roles in his resignation. “Benedict may not have quit because of the pedophilia scandals or any other specific controversy,” says Vatican expert John Allen. “But it's hard to believe they didn’t play a role, at least as background.”

There are also rampant rumors that the pope’s health is far worse than anyone realizes. Whispers of late-night helicopter trips to emergency rooms and hints that he is suffering some terminal illness like leukemia pushed forward by Italian gossip site Dagospia are unconfirmed, but still won’t go away. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi begins each press briefing with a list of untruths he has read in the press, effectively spinning the stories back under Vatican control.

Sister Act

Hope For A Nun-Friendly New Pope

American nuns—fiercely condemned under Pope Benedict for being too “radical”—are looking forward to a fresh start with a new pontiff.

Of all the scandals that have been pinned to Benedict XVI’s papacy, perhaps none has been more divisive than the so-called clampdown on American nuns last April.  Its no wonder, then, that sisters across America are hoping that the next pope gives them a fairer shake.  In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, the head of the largest group of American nuns shares what she is looking for in a new leader.

Sister Florence Deacon

Sister Florence Deacon. (Seth Perlman/AP)

The American nun scandal came to a head last spring when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an eight-page doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group with more than 1,500 members representing 80 percent of American nuns. In it, they chastised the American sisters for “pushing radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” They also accused the sisters of staying silent on a number of the church’s teachings on sensitive topics like euthanasia, women’s ordination, and same-sex marriage. A fierce backlash ensued when Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of several faith-based books, called on the Twitterverse to start tweeting support for nuns under #whatsistersmeantome.  More than a million tweets supporting the sisters followed.  “There is a danger of backlash because of the esteem [in which] so many Catholics hold nuns,” Martin told The Daily Beast at the height of the scandal.  “For many Catholics, sisters are the glue that holds the church together.”

Now the leadership of the LCWR hopes to start fresh with a new pope.   “There were two investigations of Catholic sisters undertaken during Pope Benedict’s era,” Sister Florence Deacon, the current president of the LCWR, told The Daily Beast after Pope Benedict’s resignation announcement.  One damning report quoted Pope John Paul II’s gratitude for the sisters’ “deep love of the church and generous service to God’s people” but then lashed out at the sisters for not toeing the Vatican’s party line. “While we appreciate this expression of gratitude, we found the whole process of the investigation flawed and question the findings and the mandate given to LCWR,” Deacon says. “We hope a new pope would be open to dialogue with the U.S. Catholic sisters and work with us to support our mission.”

FAREWELL

Pope: Resignation for ‘Good of the Church’

Pope: Resignation for ‘Good of the Church’ AFP/Getty

As he presides over what is likely to be his last pubic Mass.

Vive il papa. Prior to giving what is likely to be his last public Mass as pope, Benedict XVI said on Wednesday he had resigned for the “good of the church” and he thanked his supporters for their “love and support.” He said he is resigning due to declining health and because he could no longer perform his duties as effectively, but said he hoped the prayers of the church would sustain him. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday that he would resign effective February 28, making him the first pope in nearly 600 years to step aside. The Ash Wednesday mass had to move to St. Peter’s Basilica to accommodate the large crowds.

Read it at BBC News

His insights into modern political life were born of a keen intelligence refined by deep faith. The world will miss this pope.

He came to the papacy burdened by the cartoon image of “God’s Rottweiler” and the fact that he had been a very reluctant draftee into the Wehrmacht during World War II. What Joseph Ratzinger displayed over the seven-and-a-half years of his pontificate, however, was an acute sense of the crisis of western democracy at this moment in history. A German pope who publicly thanked the people of the United Kingdom for winning the Battle of Britain was, clearly, a man with an unusual perspective on, and insight into, contemporary history.

Pope Benedict XVI at United Nations

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges applause in the United Nations General Assembly as he prepares to address the U.N. staff, at UN headquarters on April 18, 2008. (Richard Drew/AP)

That insight was on full display in his instantly controversial Regensburg lecture of September 2006, where a robust quote from a medieval exchange between a Christian and a Muslim obscured the hard truths that the pope proposed: that Islam and “the rest” could only live together peacefully if Islam found within itself the intellectual resources to warrant religious toleration and a separation of religious and political authority in a 21st century Islamic state. The uproar that followed was unfortunate; the issues Benedict XVI put on the table of world discussion remain completely salient.

Then there was the pope’s 2008 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. There, like his great predecessor, John Paul II, he defended the universality of human rights while urging the world to a deeper understanding of the human dignity from which basic human rights flow. Rights as mere trump cards for claims of personal lifestyle preference, the pope suggested, could easily be bent to authoritarian, even tyrannical ends. A polite yawn followed; but the issue of how a world that can only affirm “your truth” and “my truth” can possibly defend basic human rights remains as urgent today as when the German professor-pope stood at the U.N.’s marble rostrum almost five years ago.

Pick-a-Pope

Habemus Vacancy

The Vatican knows how to stage a conclave—that secretive selection process for the next pope—if the pontiff dies. But with retirement, the rules aren’t so clear.

When the conclave of cardinals convenes in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel sometime next month to choose a new pope—it could be as soon as March 1, or as late as March 20—the secret process won’t seem quite as secret as it once did. Since the last one in 2005, after the death of John Paul II, pop culture has treated the world to some wild fictional depictions of what goes on, from the debauchery of The Borgias to the parachuting camerlengo in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

Black Smoke Billows During the Last Conclave

An icon of the Virgin Mary with child is lit, as black smoke billows from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, on April 18, 2005. Black smoke indicates that cardinals in the conclave have not elected a new pope yet. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

The scene certainly won’t be as dramatic as that. But at the moment, even the Vatican’s official spokesmen have no idea precisely what is going to happen or precisely when. Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Monday in the dead language of Latin that, while still alive, he’d be stepping down on Feb. 28, took the cosseted curia around him by surprise. (The last papal resignation was in 1415 at the time of a major schism.)

So, technically, there are no set rules, and Benedict, if he chooses, can make up new ones over the next two weeks. But the general guidelines probably will follow those laid down by John Paul II in 1996.

Nosy Neighbor

The Backseat Pope

He likes cats, playing the piano, and praying. But will a retired Benedict XVI really be able to stay out of his successor’s hair?

You know what it’s like when someone takes over your old job—especially if you stay in the same company? It’s tough not to look over your successor’s shoulder and offer unwanted advice. Now imagine the new guy has taken over your direct line to God.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI, center, walks with his staff prior to Sunday Mass in Bicentennial Park near Silao, Mexico, on March 25, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

When Pope Benedict XVI retires on February 28, he will be the first pontiff in 600 years to leave his post by choice. His predecessors have almost all died of natural causes, leaving their legacies for others to shape. (In some cases they were murdered, like Gregory V, who was poisoned, and the first pope, St. Peter, who was crucified.) But Benedict is sticking around. The question, then, is just how visible he’ll remain.

The Vatican has already said he will not be involved in electing his predecessor; sometime after his last day Benedict will head to the papal resort of Castel Gandolfo in the Roman foothills to wait out the conclave, seen as a sign that he doesn’t want to be involved in the short term.

RESIGNATION

Pope Had Secret Heart Surgery

Pope Had Secret Heart Surgery Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 29, 2012 at the Vatican. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty)

To replace pacemaker three months ago.

For those of you craving a scandal, you may be disappointed. Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his retirement yesterday, reportedly had secret heart surgery three months ago to replace his pacemaker. The Vatican released a statement saying that the pope has been in fact wearing a pacemaker for some time, but that his health is good. The newspaper II Sole 24 says that the 85-year-old has had a pacemaker for the past 10 years. The surgery went well and the pope maintained his schedule, but it reportedly made him think about whether he was fit to stay in power.

Read it at Bloomberg

#vatican

Cover It Live

Papal Inauguration: Live Updates From Rome!

Papal Inauguration: Live Updates From Rome!

Follow our reporters Barbie Latza Nadeau and Christopher Dickey in Rome as Pope Francis takes over. See tweets, photos, and videos.

viva la papa

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Not Your Average Pope

Not Your Average Pope

As 200,000 cheered on, Pope Francis was inaugurated in a glitzy Vatican City ceremony this morning.

Explainer

The Dirty War for Dummies

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Pope Gives God Three Weeks' Notice

Shocking the Vatican and Catholics around the world Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign the papacy at the end of February, becoming the first Pope to do so since 1415. Take a look back at his 2005 election.

Scandal Sheet

Remember VatiLeaks?

The Swiss Guards' Gay Mafia

The Swiss Guards' Gay Mafia

Accusations are swirling about a secret gay cabal inside the Vatican's pope-protecting forces and how much it knew about the departure of Pope Benedict.

Eavesdropping

Peeping on the Pope

Heads Will Roll

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Conclave Conspiracies