VATICAN CITY -- The last cardinal who will participate in the conclave to elect the next pope arrived Thursday in Rome, meaning a date can now be set for the election. But it's not clear when that decision will come.
Some American and other cardinals say they want to continue the pre-conclave meetings that have been going on all week for as long as it takes. They want to discuss the problems of the church and discern who among them has the stuff to be pope.
Some Vatican-based cardinals, defensive about criticisms of the their internal governance that have been aired recently, seem to want to get on with the vote. They argue there's no reason to delay.
"Hopefully it will be a short conclave and start very soon," a Vatican-based German cardinal, Paul Josef Cordes, was quoted Wednesday in the German daily Bild. "I would compare it with a visit to the dentist -- you want to get everything over with quickly."
Once the conclave starts, there is very little time for discussion. Cardinals take two votes in the morning, two votes in the afternoon -- all of them conducted in silent prayer, not chatter, amid the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. As a result, setting the date for the start of the conclave is akin to setting the deadline for when pre-conclave deliberations effectively finish.
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These discussions are designed to give cardinals a chance to get to know one another better and dive into the problems confronting the church and who among them is best suited to fix them.
Yesterday, for example, cardinals received a briefing on the Holy See's finances amid questions about the administration of the Vatican bureaucracy and continued suspicions about the Vatican bank.
As such, "it seems very normal and very wise" to wait to set the conclave date until all cardinals are confident that they're nearing an end to their deliberations, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The arrival in Rome of Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man signaled at least that a vote could be taken on a start date. now that all 115 cardinal electors are in place.
He entered the Vatican auditorium for the afternoon session without speaking to reporters. No vote on a conclave date was taken, Lombardi said.
For the fourth day in a row, discussions included questions about the Holy See's administration and its relationships with dioceses around the world amid complaints that the Holy See doesn't communicate well, internally or externally.