(Vatican Radio) Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, Fr. Thomas Reese says he believes the conclave will be a short one because the Cardinals have had one month to get to know each other and sound out their colleagues on the issues of concern to the Church. He told Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure that the lengthy interval between the announcement of Benedict XVI’s resignation and the start of the Conclave will have provided ample opportunity for different kinds of discussion among the Cardinals.
“Theoretically,” said Fr. Reese, “the longer they have to talk to one another, especially informally…that’s where the really important thing happens. Where the Cardinals meet over dinner, over coffee, just you know, visiting each other. (It’s) an opportunity to get to know each other, to ask questions: ‘what do you think are the issues facing the Church, what do you think the qualities we should have in a new pope?’ And what do you think of this man or that man – this kind of informal discussion. Typically, after a while, two or three names start to surface. The Cardinals all hear form each other and so these become kind of the leading candidates. Now, the longer they have to do that, you figure the better they know each other so once they get into the conclave, it’s gonna be quick. Unless – unless: let’s say the top two candidates block each other…you’ve got to have that two-thirds majority. And if the top candidates cannot get a two-thirds majority, if one third plus one of the Cardinals don’t like him, that’s it… so they’re going to be watching the votes. The more people move up, if they have momentum, then that’s a good sign. But if they suddenly don’t get anymore votes and then they start to decline, well that’s the end of that candidacy.”
Q. So is there a cut-off point for a conclave- a maximum time period?
“No, absolutely not. They have to stay in there until they pick a pope…What would happen …if the top candidates, the front runners get knocked out? Well then you go to your second list. You know your second choices. And then at that point, you know: I’m not going to get whom I want; you’re not going to get whom you want. Well, who can we agree on as our second choice as a compromise candidate? That’s the kind of thing that would make the conclave go longer. Obviously, (in) the last conclave (the Cardinals) came in and Cardinal Ratzinger was pretty much everybody’s choice so the election was over in 24 hours. On the other hand, if they’re deadlocked, it could take two, three days. We haven’t had a long conclave since 1831. The conclave during the twentieth century never lasted more than four days. So I would not expect it to last more than two or three days.”