The College of Cardinals will start the conclave to choose a new pope on Tuesday in the Sistine Chapel after morning mass in St. Peter's Basilica. (Photo from Flickr user JeffFran)
By Stephanie Pawlowski
NORMAL - It's possible the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics could have a new pope next week.
The College of Cardinals will begin the conclave process on Tuesday. Pope Benedict XVI resigned at the end of February for health reasons.
Illinois State University Professor of History Katie Jasper said the conclave is relatively new.
"It didn't exist before the 13th century," Jasper said. "It came about because in the late 13th century, the cardinals were having difficulty electing a pope and the local authorities in the town closed up the cardinals and sure enough, they came to a decision."
Jasper said they had been deliberating for almost three years. She doesn't expect a long process this time because most of the 150 cardinals were either appointed by Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict.
"In the past when conclaves have taken an enormous amount of time, it's usually because there's some dissention among the cardinals. In this case they seem to be more politically in line," Jasper said.
Pope Benedict was elected in a little over a day. There are 150 cardinals that will discuss the slate, but 115 elector cardinals under the age of 80 get to vote. There will be three rounds of voting a day, one in the morning and two in the afternoon until a two-thirds majority of 77 cardinals agree on a new leader.
The cardinals are locked in the Sistine Chapel during voting, but reside in a Vatican hotel when not voting.
Jasper said the fact that there is no pope during the Lenten season probably won't rush a decision. She said it is more important to make the right decision.
"It's an extremely important position both politically and spiritually so they wouldn't rush it, even for the sake of having a pope for Lent," Jasper said.
There has not been a conclave that's lasted more than five days since the early 20th century.