Roman Catholic cardinals gathered Tuesday at the Sistine Chapel for day one of their papal conclave. Black smoke billowed over the historic building, signaling that they had not yet reached a decision on the next leader of the Catholic Church.
The black smoke emitted from the chimney that was a sign of a lack of consensus was to be expected. The first sessions of a conclave rarely result in the election of a new pope.
The 115 cardinals, who are all under the age of 80, hold four votes per day - two in the morning and two in the evening. Conclaves are open-ended, but none have lasted longer than five days in more than 100 years, meaning we should have a new pope by next week at the latest. When the conclave comes to a consensus on the new pope, white smoke will be emitted from the Sistine Chapel's chimney, which is the signal that a new pontiff has been elected.
While Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who ultimately became Pope Benedict XVI, had emerged ahead of the last papal conclave in 2005 as a strong contender for the job, the same is not true for this conclave. There is no single stand-out. Rather, there are a handful of Cardinals who are considered contenders, making the outcome of this conclave more difficult to predict.
Cardinals Angelo Scola of Italy, Odillo Scherer of Brazil, Marc Ouellet of Canada, Timothy Dolan of New York, Sean O'Malley of Boston, Jose Bergoglio of Argentina, and Peter Turkson of Ghana are all possibilities that have been mentioned.
Among analysts, Scola seems to be the favorite of the moment, but it is believed that the longer the conclave goes on, the more his chances diminish. Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst for the National Catholic Reporter who is in Rome to cover the conclave, says:
“If Scola doesn’t wrap it up tomorrow, if there’s not enough support for him, there is a chance he stalls. The shorter it goes, the better the chances for any of the front-runners. Should it go more than two or three days, then all bets are off, and the options for the next pope grow.”