“Extra omnes” — “Everyone out”

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Michael Angelo Buonarroti-Simoni’s stunning masterpiece, The Chapel Sistine, into which the men charged with the selection of the new Papa will seclude themselves beginning this day.

Today, at Roma, the conclave begins. When it does, the command “Extra omnes” — “Everyone out” will be sounded in the Chapel Sistine and the assembled Cardinals, whose Holy task it is to select the next Pope will be left alone with one another, their consciences and The Holy Spirit to guide them.

We thank the Associated Press for these following brief biographies and assessments of the presumed leading contenders:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinals from around the world gather this week in a conclave to elect a new pope following the stunning resignation of Benedict XVI. In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history has yielded plenty of surprises. Yet several names have come up time repeatedly as strong contenders for the job. Here is a look at who they are:

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CARDINAL ANGELO SCOLA: Scola is seen as Italy’s best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back pontiffs from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries. He’s also one of the top names among all of the papal contenders. Scola, 71, has commanded both the pulpits of Milan’s Duomo as archbishop and Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral as patriarch, two extremely prestigious church positions that together gave the world five popes during the 20th century. Scola was widely viewed as a papal contender when Benedict was elected eight years ago. His promotion to Milan, Italy’s largest and most influential diocese, has been seen as a tipping point in making him one of the leading papal candidates. He is known as a doctrinal conservative who is also at ease quoting Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.

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CARDINAL ODILO SCHERER: Scherer is known for prolific tweeting, appearances on Brazil’s most popular late-night talk show and squeezing into the subway for morning commutes. Brazil’s best hope to supply the next pontiff is increasingly being touted as one of the top overall contenders for the job. At the relatively young age of 63, he enthusiastically embraces all new methods for reaching believers, while staying true to a conservative line of Roman Catholic doctrine and hardline positions on social issues such as rejection of same-sex marriage. Scherer joined Twitter in 2011 and in his second tweet said: “If Jesus preached the gospel today, he would also use print media, radio, TV, the Internet and Twitter. Give Him a chance!” Scherer became the Sao Paulo archbishop in 2007 and was named a cardinal later the same year.

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CARDINAL MARC OUELLET: Canada’s Ouellet once said that being pope “would be a nightmare.” He would know, having enjoyed the confidence of two popes as a top-ranked Vatican insider. His high-profile position as head of the Vatican’s office for bishops, his conservative leanings, his years in Latin America and his work in Rome as president of a key commission for Latin America all make him a favorite to become the first pontiff from the Americas. But the qualities that make the 68-year-old popular in Latin America — home to the world’s biggest Catholic population — and among the cardinals who elect the pope have contributed to his poor image in his native Quebec, where ironically he was perceived during his tenure as archbishop as an outsider parachuted in from Rome to reorder his liberal province along conservative lines.

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CARDINAL PETER ERDO: Erdo is the son of a deeply religious couple who defied communist repression in Hungary to practice their faith. And if elected pope, the 60-year-old would be the second pontiff to come from eastern Europe —following in the footsteps of the late John Paul II, a Pole who left a great legacy helping to topple communism. A cardinal since 2003, Erdo is expert on canon law and distinguished university theologian who has also striven to forge close ties to the parish faithful. He is increasingly seen as a compromise candidate if cardinals are unable to rally around some of more high-profile figures like Scola or Scherer.

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CARDINAL GIANFRANCO RAVASI: Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, is an erudite scholar with a modern touch — just the combination some faithful see as ideal for reviving a church beset by scandal and a shrinking flock. The 70-year-old is also one of the favorites among Catholics who long to see a return to the tradition of Italian popes. The polyglot biblical scholar peppers speeches with references ranging from Aristotle to late British diva Amy Winehouse. Ravasi’s foreign language prowess is reminiscent of that of the late globetrotting John Paul II: He tweets in English, chats in Italian and has impressed his audiences by switching to Hebrew and Arabic in some of his speeches.

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CARDINAL PETER TURKSON: Often cast as the social conscience of the church, Ghana’s Turkson is viewed by many as the top African contender for pope. The 64-year-old head of the Vatican’s peace and justice office was widely credited with helping to avert violence following contested Ghanaian elections. He has aggressively fought African poverty, while disappointing many by hewing to the church’s conservative line on condom use amid Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Turkson’s reputation as a man of peace took a hit recently when he showed a virulently anti-Islamic video, a move now seen as hurting his papal prospects. Observers say those prospects sank further when he broke a taboo against public jockeying for the papacy — says the day after Benedict’s resignation announcement that he’s up for the job “if it’s the will of God.”

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CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Dolan, the 63-year-old archbishop of New York, is an upbeat, affable defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and a well-known religious figure in the United States. He holds a job Pope John Paul II once called “archbishop of the capital of the world.” His colleagues broke with protocol in 2010 and made him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, instead of elevating the sitting vice president as expected. And during the 2012 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats competed over which national political convention the cardinal would bless. He did both. But scholars question whether his charisma and experience are enough for a real shot at succeeding Benedict.

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CARDINAL JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: Bergoglio, 76, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. The archbishop of Buenos Aires reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly. Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

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CARDINAL LEONARDO SANDRI: Leonardo Sandri, 69, is a Vatican insider who has run the day-to-day operations of the global church’s vast bureaucracy and roamed the world as a papal diplomat. He left his native Argentina for Rome at 27 and never returned to live in his homeland. Initially trained as a canon lawyer, he reached the No. 3 spot in the church’s hierarchy under Pope John Paul II, the zenith of a long career in the Vatican’s diplomatic service ranging from Africa to Mexico to Washington. As substitute secretary of state for seven years, he essentially served as the pope’s chief of staff. The jovial diplomat has been knighted in a dozen countries, and the church he is attached to as cardinal is Rome’s exquisite, baroque San Carlo ai Catinari.

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CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE: Asia’s most prominent Roman Catholic leader knows how to reach the masses: He sings on stage, preaches on TV, brings churchgoers to laughter and tears with his homilies. And he’s on Facebook. But the 55-year-old Filipino’s best response against the tide of secularism, clergy sex abuse scandals and rival-faith competition could be his reputation for humility. His compassion for the poor and unassuming ways have impressed followers in his homeland, Asia’s largest Catholic nation, and church leaders in the Vatican. Tagle’s chances are considered remote, as many believe that Latin America or Africa — with their faster growing Catholic flocks — would be more logical choices if the papal electors look beyond Europe.

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CARDINAL CHRISTOPH SCHOENBORN: Schoenborn is a soft-spoken conservative who is ready to listen to those espousing reform. That profile that could appeal to fellow cardinals looking to elect a pontiff with widest-possible appeal to the world’s 1 billion Catholics. His Austrian nationality may be his biggest disadvantage: Electors may be reluctant to choose another German speaker as a successor to Benedict. A man of low tolerance for the child abuse scandals roiling the church, Schoenborn, 68, himself was elevated to the its upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy after his predecessor resigned 18 years ago over accusations that he was a pedophile.

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CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH: Benedict XVI picked the Sri Lankan Ranjith to return from Colombo to the Vatican to oversee the church’s liturgy and rites in one of his first appointments as pope. The choice of Ranjith in 2005 rewarded a strong voice of tradition — so rigid that some critics regard it even as backward-looking. Ranjith in 2010 was named Sri Lanka’s second cardinal in history. There are many strikes against a Ranjith candidacy — Sri Lanka, for example, has just 1.3 million Catholics, less than half the population of Rome. But the rising influence of the developing world, along with the 65-year-old’s strong conservative credentials, helps keeps his name in the mix of papal contenders.

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CARDINAL ANDRES RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA: To many, Maradiaga embodies the activist wing of the Roman Catholic Church as an outspoken campaigner of human rights, a watchdog on climate change and advocate of international debt relief for poor nations. Others, however, see the 70-year-old Honduran as a reactionary in the other direction: Described as sympathetic to a coup in his homeland and stirring accusations of anti-Semitism for remarks that some believe suggested Jewish interests encouraged extra media attention on church sex abuse scandals. Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, is among a handful of Latin American prelates considered to have a credible shot at the papacy.

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CARDINAL ANGELO BAGNASCO: The archbishop of Genoa, Bagnasco also is head of the powerful Italian bishops’ conference. Both roles give him outsized influence in the conclave, where Italians represent the biggest national bloc, and could nudge ahead his papal chances if the conclave looks to return the papacy to Italian hands. At 70 years old, Bagnasco is seen as in the right age bracket for papal consideration. But his lack of international experience and exposure could be a major liability.

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CARDINAL SEAN PATRICK O’MALLEY: As archbishop of Boston, O’Malley has faced the fallout from the church’s abuse scandals for nearly a decade. The fact he is mentioned at all as a potential papal candidate is testament to his efforts to bring together an archdiocese at the forefront of the abuse disclosures. Like other American cardinals, the papal prospects for the 68-year-old O’Malley suffer because of the accepted belief that many papal electors oppose the risk of having U.S. global policies spill over, even indirectly, onto the Vatican’s image. O’Malley is among the most Internet-savvy members of the conclave.

Following is a synopsis of what is transpiring in Roma today, both preparatory to the Princes of The Church retreating from the presence of all others and then the protocol to be followed in their seclusion of The Chapel Sistine.

Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect the next pope amid more upheaval and uncertainty than the Catholic Church has seen in decades: There’s no front-runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to fix the many problems.

On the eve of the vote, cardinals offered wildly different assessments of what they’re looking for in the next pontiff and how close they are to a decision. It was evidence that Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation has continued to destabilize the church leadership and that his final appeal for unity may go unheeded, at least in the early rounds of voting.

Cardinals held their final closed-door debate Monday over whether the church needs more of a manager to clean up the Vatican’s bureaucratic mess or a pastor to inspire the 1.2 billion faithful in times of crisis. The fact that not everyone got a chance to speak was a clear sign that there’s still unfinished business on the eve of the conclave.

“This time around, there are many different candidates, so it’s normal that it’s going to take longer than the last time,” Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Chile told The Associated Press.

“There are no groups, no compromises, no alliances, just each one with his conscience voting for the person he thinks is best, which is why I don’t think it will be over quickly.”

None of that has prevented a storm of chatter over who’s ahead.

The buzz in the papal stakes swirled around Cardinal Angelo Scola, an Italian seen as favored by cardinals hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, a favorite of Vatican-based insiders intent on preserving the status quo.

Scola is affable and Italian, but not from the Italian-centric Vatican bureaucracy called the Curia. That gives him clout with those seeking to reform the nerve center of the church that has been discredited by revelations of leaks and complaints from cardinals in the field that Rome is inefficient and unresponsive to their needs.

Scherer seems to be favored by Latin Americans and the Curia. He has a solid handle on the Vatican’s finances, sitting on the governing commission of the Vatican bank, as well as the Holy See’s main budget committee.

As a non-Italian, the archbishop of Sao Paolo would be expected to name an Italian as secretary of state — the Vatican No. 2 who runs day-to-day affairs — another plus for Vatican-based cardinals who would want one of their own running the shop.

The pastoral camp seems to be focusing on two Americans, New York archbishop Timothy Dolan and Boston archbishop Sean O’Malley. Neither has Vatican experience. Dolan has acknowledged his Italian isn’t strong — seen as a handicap for a job in which the lingua franca of day-to-day work is Italian.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is well-respected, stemming from his job at the important Vatican office that vets bishop appointments. Less well known is that he has a lovely singing voice and can be heard belting out French folk songs on occasion.

If the leading names fail to reach the 77 votes required for victory in the first few rounds of balloting, any number of surprise candidates could come to the fore as alternatives.

It all starts Tuesday with the cardinals checking into the Santa Marta residence on the edge of the Vatican gardens. The rooms are simple and impersonal, but a step up from the cramped conditions the cardinals faced before the hotel was put to use in 2005, when long lines would form at the Apostolic Palace for using bathrooms.

At 10 a.m., the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will lead the celebration of the “Pro eligendo Pontificie” Mass — the Mass for the election of a pope — inside St. Peter’s Basilica, joined by the 115 cardinals who will vote.

This is followed at 4:30 p.m. with a procession into the Sistine Chapel, with the cardinals intoning the Litany of Saints, the hypnotic Gregorian chant imploring the saints to help guide their voting. After another chant calling on the Holy Spirit to intervene, the cardinals take the oath of secrecy, followed by a meditation delivered by elderly Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech.

Before cardinals start voting for a new pope, they will swear an oath of secrecy in the Sistine Chapel. It will be administered by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the conclave’s presiding cardinal. After he reads it, each cardinal elector will touch the Holy Gospels and “promise, pledge and swear” to uphold the oath.

Here’s the full text of the oath:

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“We, the Cardinal electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise, pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, published on 22 February 1996.

We likewise promise, pledge and swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the liberty of the Holy See.

In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff.”

After the oath is administered and sworn,  the master of papal liturgical ceremonies gives the order “Extra omnes” — “Everyone out” — and all but those taking part in the conclave leave the chapel’s frescoed walls.

During the voting that ensues, each cardinal writes his choice on a rectangular piece of paper inscribed with the words “Eligo in summen pontificem” — Latin for “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.”

Holding the folded ballot up in the air, each approaches the altar and places it on a saucer, before tipping it into an oval urn, as he intones these words: “I call as my witness, Christ the Lord, who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who, before God, I think should be elected.”

After the votes are counted, and the outcomes announced, the papers are bound together with a needle and thread, each ballot pierced through the word “Eligo.” The ballots are then placed in a cast-iron stove and burned with a special chemical.

That’s when all eyes will turn to the 6-foot-high copper chimney erected atop the Sistine Chapel to pipe out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there’s a new pope.

Black smoke means “not yet” — the likely outcome after Round 1. White smoke means the 266th pope has been chosen.

The first puffs of smoke should emerge sometime around 8 p.m. Tuesday. If they are black, voting will continue, four rounds each day, until a pope is elected.

Whoever he is, the next pope will face a church in crisis: Benedict spent his eight-year pontificate trying to revive Catholicism amid the secular trends that have made it almost irrelevant in places like Europe, once a stronghold of Christianity. Clerical sex abuse scandals have soured many faithful on their church, and competition from rival evangelical churches in Latin America and Africa has drawn souls away.

Closer to home, the next pope has a major challenge awaiting him inside the Vatican walls, after the leaks of papal documents in 2012 exposed ugly turf battles, allegations of corruption and even a plot purportedly orchestrated by Benedict’s aides to out a prominent Italian Catholic editor as gay.

Cardinals heard a briefing Monday from the Vatican No. 2 about another stain on the Holy See’s reputation, the Vatican bank. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who heads the commission of cardinals overseeing the scandal-marred Institute for Religious Works, outlined the efforts to clean up the bank’s image in international financial circles.

Massimo Franco, noted columnist for the leading daily Corriere della Sera, said the significance of the revelations about the bank and the Holy See’s internal governance cannot be underestimated, since they were factors in Benedict’s decision to resign and the major task faced by his successor.

Franco, whose new book “The Crisis of the Vatican Empire” describes the Vatican’s utter dysfunction, said cardinals are still traumatized by Benedict’s resignation, leading to uncertainty heading into the conclave.

“It’s quite unpredictable. There isn’t a majority, neither established nor in the making,” he said — unlike in 2005, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had tremendous front-runner status going into the conclave that elected him pope after just four ballots.

Dolan, a possible papal contender, seemed to think otherwise, though, and was bounding with optimism by the end of the pre-conclave meetings and the drama about to unfold.

“I’m kind of happy they’re over because we came here to elect a pope and we’ll start it tomorrow with the holy sacrifice of the Mass, then into the conclave and look for the white smoke!” Dolan enthused on his radio show on SiriusXM’s “The Catholic Channel.”

Errazuriz, the cardinal from Chile, said the key isn’t so much where the next pope comes from, but what he brings to the papacy.

Cardinals, he told AP, are looking for a pope “who is close to God, has love for people, the poorest, the ability to preach the Gospel to the world and understand the young and bring them closer to God. These are the categories that count.”

He argued that Latin America, counting 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, is underrepresented in the college of cardinals. “It doesn’t have 40 percent of the cardinals,” he said.

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, also a leading papal contender, said he was going into the conclave still rattled by the fact that his mentor, Benedict, had resigned.

“It made me cry. He was my teacher. We worked together for over 40 years,” Schoenborn said during a Mass late Sunday. Nevertheless, Schoenborn said the cardinals had banded together to face the future.

“It makes us brothers, not contenders,” he said. “Such a surprising act has already begun a true renewal.”

We pray that these Cardinals are fully attentive to the direction of the Holy Spirit in their momentous task to select the very best new Papa to help both The Mother Church and our most terribly troubled world.

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The mesmerizing ceiling of Michael Angelo Buonarroti-Simoni’s stunning masterpiece, The Chapel Sistine, into which the men charged with the selection of the new Papa will seclude themselves beginning this day.

May God guide their hands, minds, hearts and souls.

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John Daniel Begg

At Washington DC

Tuesday, 12th March, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, 2013

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