Cardinals meet to set date for conclave

2013-03-04 14:12

Vatican City - Roman Catholic cardinals are meeting on Monday to start the process of electing a new pope.

They are expected to set a date for the start of a conclave during which a successor to Benedict XVI will be chosen.

But a decision on the closed-door assembly in the Sistine Chapel was not expected on Monday.

The General Congregation of Cardinals, which held its first meeting at 09:30, may last several days.

Benedict ended his papacy on Thursday, saying that at 85, he was too frail to continue in office.

He retired to Castel Gandolfo, on the outskirts of Rome, and will not return to the Vatican until a new pope is elected.

There is no clear favourite to succeed Benedict - the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

One likely contender among the Italian candidates is the Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola.

But there is also a chance that the next pope will be non-European.

The aim is to have a new pope by Easter, which this year falls on 31 March.

US Cardinal Roger Mahony posted on Twitter on Sunday that the process could be over in less than two weeks.

The run-up to the papal election process has been marred by new allegations of child sex abuse, homosexuality and financial impropriety in the Vatican.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the church's former top official in Britain, stepped down in February after allegations of "inappropriate" behaviour, and admitted on Sunday that his sexual conduct had at times "fallen below the standards expected of me”.

Last month, an Italian newspaper reported that Benedict resigned after an investigation by three cardinals had backed up allegations from the VatiLeaks scandal - in which leaked confidential papal papers shed light on alleged Vatican corruption.

Controversy has also arisen over Mahony.

He was urged in an online petition to stay away from Rome because of his involvement in covering up cases of child sex abuse by priests in the United States.

He has already been stripped of all public duties because of this.