VATICAN CITY - The College of Cardinals will meet twice Monday to begin discussing the issues the Roman Catholic Church faces as the cardinals prepare to choose a successor to Benedict XVI, pope emeritus.
"It's important not to expect the announcement of the date of the conclave on Monday," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said at a news conference Friday.
The cardinals, he said, need time to "get into the rhythm of those meetings" before they make a significant decision. These "general" meetings before the conclave are open to all
Until this week, the rule was that a conclave couldn't begin until 15 days after the papal office became vacant. But that assumed a pope had died and allowed for a funeral and the traditional nine memorial Masses. Days before he abdicated, Pope Benedict changed the rules, giving the cardinals the option to vote earlier if they wished.
This is a very different interregnum - vacancy - than the one following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, when millions of mourners poured into Rome. On Friday, the day after Pope Benedict, 85, flew to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to begin his retirement, the priests briefing the media were in high spirits. They broke into laughter at several points in their lengthy news conference - though they didn't always translate the joke from Italian.
Lombardi showed reporters a video of the papal apartments being sealed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who ceased to be Vatican secretary of state when the see became vacant at 8 p.m. Thursday, and is now the camerlengo, or chamberlain, who handles basic operational issues until a new pope is chosen.
Sealing the apartment is an ancient tradition, written into church rules, but usually done after the camerlengo has verified the pope's death. The video showed Bertone placing white tape across the doors of the papal elevator and stamping it with an office-style self-inking stamp bearing the seal of the vacant see. Then he tied the doors of the papal apartments closed with a ceremonial red ribbon, using a glue gun on the knot for good measure. The next morning he sealed the pope's rooms at the Lateran Palace, the residence at St. John Lateran Basilica, which is the pope's cathedral.
Lombardi relayed a report from Archbishop George Ganswein, secretary to the emeritus pope, who reported that after dinner and praying the liturgy of the hours, Benedict read some of the many messages from well-wishers and spent time gazing out over Lake Albano from a reception hall.