VATICAN CITY -- As Rome and the world await the next puffs of smoke from the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican on Wednesday sought to downplay reports of divisions among the 115 Roman Catholic cardinals gathered to elect a new pope.
Speculation that disagreements over candidates may be slowing the selection of a successor to Pope Benedict XVI was “invented," Vatican spokesman Rev. Tom Rosica told The Times.
“These reports are inventions, often launched by people as balloons, without any foundation and it is very unfair to read these ideas into what the cardinals are doing,” he said.
PHOTOS: Vatican Conclave 2013
The cardinals have voted three times so far, once Tuesday evening and twice Wednesday morning. All three votes were inconclusive, twice accompanied with the issuing of black smoke from the roof of the Sistine Chapel. After lunch and a rest back at the Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican, the cardinals were due to cast at least one more set of votes Wednesday.
Once a single candidate has received at least a two-thirds majority on a ballot, white smoke will signify the selection of a pope.
Voting three times without a selection was “normal,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a news conference for hundreds of journalists covering the papal transition. He noted that in the last century only Pius XII, the World War II-era pope, had been elected on the third ballot. In 2005, Benedict, whose resignation last month stunned the church and set this week’s events in motion, was elected on the fourth ballot.
If the cardinals do not reach agreement by Saturday, they will take a pause for prayer and reflection before resuming, Lombardi said.
Much of the Italian media and other analysts have suggested that a fundamental difference over whether the next pope should overhaul the scandal-plagued Vatican bureaucracy has split the cardinals into camps. The proceedings are secret so it can be months, if ever, before these details are known.
FULL COVERAGE: Choosing a pope
Asked to comment on a statement by SNAP, a group that fights sexual abuse by priests and other religious figures, that 12 cardinals did not deserve to be at the conclave because of their records on covering up scandals, Lombardi accused the organization of “negative prejudices.” Rosica said there was “no reason” for the cardinals to be excluded.
“They are worthy of our esteem and earned their place in the conclave,” he said.
Among those whom SNAP and other anti-abuse groups have singled out is Cardinal Roger Mahony, former archbishop of Los Angeles, who is taking part in the conclave.
Lombardi said the smoke-generating stove in the Sistine Chapel, where the ballots are burned after each vote, was loaded this year with a cartridge containing five chemical charges, which were triggered electronically every minute, producing five minutes of thick smoke.
The idea is to make the smoke clearly black or white. In past conclaves, the smoke was sometimes difficult to see and appeared in a confusing shade of gray.
After debate over whether the installation ceremony of the new pope would take place March 17 or March 19, Lombardi said the latter option was a “good hypothesis.”
Of course, that would have to be after the white smoke.
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