Papal Election Underway as 115 Cardinals Enter Conclave

Public preaching gives way to secret deliberations.

U.S. cardinal Timothy Dolan (L) and Hong Kong cardinal John Tong Hon attend a mass at the St Peter's basilica before the conclave on March 12, 2013.

U.S. cardinal Timothy Dolan (L) and Hong Kong cardinal John Tong Hon attend a mass at St Peter's basilica before the conclave, March 12, 2013.

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One hundred fifteen cardinals, so-called "princes" of the Catholic Church, entered cloistered deliberations Tuesday to debate and ultimately elect a new spiritual, bureaucratic, and—for Vatican residents—temporal leader.

The papal electors will vote Tuesday afternoon, and thereafter twice in the morning and twice at night, until a candidate emerges victorious with 77 votes.

The men take an oath of secrecy before entering the conclave, The Telegraph reports, saying in Latin that they "swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff."

Ahead of the conclave some leading papal contenders delivered public sermons around Rome in an apparent bid to show off their talents. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was elected in 2005 after delivering a strong sermon denouncing "the dictatorship of relativism." Benedict's decision to resign at age 85, an unprecedented move in the history of the modern church, has removed the gloom of mourning from events.

[PHOTOS: Papal Conclaves Through History]

Among the top contenders for the job are Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63, and Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71.

Reuters reports that Scola, who leads Milan's archdiocese, has worked carefully to raise his public profile, in part by creating a Christian-Muslim dialogue network. Scola is perhaps the strongest Italian candidate, while Scherer is reportedly favored by Rome-based Curia cardinals.

Other contenders include Filipino Luis Tagle, 55, Ghanaian Peter Turkson, 64, Americans Sean O'Malley of Boston, 68, and Timothy Dolan of New York, 63, Canadian Marc Ouellet, 68, and Austrian Christoph Schoenborn, 68. The Guardian reports that O'Malley is particularly well-liked among everyday Italians.

Cardinals must be under the age of 80 to take part in the conclave. All of the electors were appointed by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II.

[OPINION: The Church Needs a Younger Pope]

Depending on the ultimate victor, news reports about the sexual abuse of children by priests—along with the associated cover-ups and non-discipline of offenders—may be thrust back into the spotlight. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests released a list last week of twelve possible papal candidates it deems "the dirty dozen" who "would be the worst choice for children."

The BBC reported that in 2005 electors went through four ballots, with Benedict ultimately defeating Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio with 84 out of 115 votes.

Feverish coverage of the papal election has also explored the source of the dark and white smoke that emerges from a makeshift chimney in the Sistine Chapel to inform the world of progress. According to a smoke-machine supplier quoted by The New York Times, the white smoke—signifying a new pope—may be produced by potassium chlorate and the black smoke—signifying an inconclusive vote—may be the product of the same chemical with black dye. Two ovens await use in the Sistine Chapel.

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