115 Cardinals have gathered in Rome to begin the process of electing the next Pope, with no clear predictions as to who will become the next leader of the Catholic Church.
The Cardinal-electors are gathering for a special “Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff” in St Peter’s Basilica. This afternoon they will retire to the Sistine Chapel to begin voting in secret.
Votes will take place four times a day until two thirds, 77, of the cardinals have reached an agreement. Ballots will be burned after every vote, with black smoke from the Chapel’s chimney a signal to the outside world that votes are still ongoing, and white smoke to mean the Pope has been chosen.
The process will take place in a secret conclave cut off from the world – even electronic signals are jammed to stop any Tweets about the election process.
Some Cardinals took to Twitter to bid goodbye to their followers, not knowing how long they will remain in the conclave.
“Last tweet before the conclave: May Our Father hear and answer with love and mercy all prayers and sacrifices offered for a fruitful outcome,” Tweeted Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa.
As there is no frontrunner in the election it is unknown how long the voting process will take. Pope Benedict was elected in just four votes, having gone in the clear favourite. It is expected that this time the election will take longer.
The next Pope will be chosen from a pool of Cardinals appointed by the staunchly conservative Benedict XVI and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, so it is not expected that he will take a more progressive stance on gay rights than previous Popes.
Cardinals may be relieved to enter the secret conclave, where they will not have to deal with yesterday’s embarrassing revelation that the Vatican’s property investments include Europe’s biggest gay sauna.
After the Pope is elected the Vatican will begin its investigation into Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned from his role following revelations about sexual misconduct with male priests and will not be part of the conclave.