New Pope likely to be elected during Lent - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

New Pope likely to be elected during Lent

Pope Benedict XVI Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI will step down on Feb. 28, less than two months before his 86th birthday and just days before the start of Lent, the holiest season in the Catholic religion.

Lent starts Wednesday and it will be an interesting one this year because it's very likely there will be a new Pope before the end of Lent, which is Easter Sunday. The church is saying it will hold the papal conclave, the secret meeting at the Sistine Chapel where ballots are cast, by the middle of March. When Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, the decision was made within a day.

But it will also be interesting because of the direction this vote could take.

Historically, a new Pope has been a direct contrast to his predecessor. And because Benedict, at the age of 78, was the oldest new pope and also staunchly conservative, it's possible the next pope could be younger and more moderate.

All cardinals under the age of 80 can participate in the conclave and a two-thirds majority is required. The ballots are burned after each vote with black smoke indicating a failed ballot and white smoke meaning there's a new Pope.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of the Archdiocese of New York, has been mentioned on a few lists of possible successors despite being a cardinal for only a year. He did not expect to be electing a new pope so quickly.

"Theoretically, I've know that since I've been a cardinal that would be one of the awesome responsibilities,'' said Cardinal Dolan. "But it's not something that you think about a lot. But right now I do and I'm thinking my ‘oh my.' So that will only intensify my prayer.''

There has never been an American Pope, and Cardinal Dolan is considered a long shot.
But the U.S. will have a greater voice in this papal vote than it's ever had.

11 cardinal electors, almost 10 percent of the conclave, will be Americans. That will be the second-largest voting bloc behind only Italy, which will have 28 electors.

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