April 18, 2005

Tribal Council begins in the Vatican

115 cardinals are entering the Sistine Chapel this morning to begin the Conclave that will select the new Pope.

The cardinals are sequestered inside the Chapel complex, completely cut off from the outside world in order to participate in a centuries-old process that will see three or four votes per day until a new Pope is selected. The complex has had all radios and televisions, all cell phones and Blackberries, all internet access and any other access to the outside world removed.

Representing 52 countries, the 115 crimson-robed "princes" of a church stung by priest sex-abuse scandals and an exodus of the faithful celebrated a midmorning Mass at St. Peter's Basilica before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel late Monday afternoon.

There, seated atop a false floor hiding electronic jamming devices designed to thwart eavesdroppers, they were to take an oath of secrecy, hear a meditation from a senior cardinal and decide whether to take a first vote or wait until Tuesday.

If there is a vote this afternoon, smoke will rise from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel sometime during the 1PM (ET) hour.

Black smoke would signify that no concensus vote had been reached, while white smoke, coupled with the ringing of bells in the Vatican would signify that a new pontiff has been chosen.

Several names have been posited by network news people as the supposed "front-runner," but many point out the old Vatican adage, "He who enters a pontiff, exits a cardinal." That implies that no "front-runner" has ever won the two-thirds vote necessary to become pope.

The networks all have their reporters ensconced in strategic locations around St. Peter's Square, and will (of course) go to wall-to-wall "Pope-o-vision" when events warrant.

UPDATE - 5P ET - Black smoke spewed out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney shortly after 2P ET, signalling a "No" vote among the cardinals sequestered for the Conclave.

Tribal Council continues tomorrow, with the next "chimney sign" taking place sometime after 6A ET.

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