“I have worn this uniform for over 40 years, and I presume I will wear it until I die, because I don’t expect to be elected pope,” he said. He stammered slightly. “So — I don’t expect to have a change of wardrobe.”
The press conference focused on the general congregation meetings, a tricky subject, because the cardinals take oaths promising not to reveal the content of the discussions to outsiders.
As described by cardinals and Vatican representatives, there is little back and forth in these sessions. Cardinals sign up to speak and essentially make speeches without debate.
A half-hour coffee break gives the cardinals time to chat informally. Cardinals who are over 80 years old — the cutoff for being eligible to vote in the conclave — are invited to join the general congregations.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, who presided alongside O’Malley at the press conference, said the congregations were “pretty serene — it’s not campaign-like.”
The College of Cardinals has not yet set a date for the conclave, nor have cardinals decided when they will set a date. All electors must be present for the date to be set, and a Vatican representative said 5 of the 115 electors were not yet in Rome. Church law requires the conclave to begin no more than 20 days after a papal vacancy.
O’Malley said the cardinals want to be sure they allow themselves enough time to weigh issues and contenders before the conclave to make sure the voting itself does not “drag on.” All the conclaves in the last century have ended within five days; in earlier centuries, some voting sessions lasted for months or even years.
O’Malley and DiNardo said cardinals who, like themselves, were in charge of dioceses, hoped to return home by March 24 for Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. But they said the prelates do not want to rush. “This is the most important decision that some of us will ever make, and we need to give it the time that’s necessary,” O’Malley said.
He told the National Catholic Reporter Sunday that he hoped the cardinals would meet twice a day every day this week to move the process along. But Tuesday the cardinals decided against meeting twice that day, and they plan on meeting only during the morning Wednesday. O’Malley smiled a little tightly when asked about that. “This is Rome,” he said.
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at email@example.com.