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Cardinals fail to elect new pope in first conclave ballot

Cardinals began a conclave in the famed Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to pick one man among them to be the next pope. Black smoke over the Vatican in the evening signalled their first vote was inconclusive.

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Thick black smoke billowed into the sky above the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday night, signalling an inconclusive first vote in the conclave to elect a new pope.

Roman Catholic cardinals from across the globe filed into the famed chapel hours earlier as they began the secret discussions and ballot rounds to choose the 266th pope. The conclave to find the next pontiff will be closely followed by the world’s 1.2-billion-strong church, which has struggled with scandals in recent years.

The 115 scarlet-clothed cardinals chanted the so-called “litany of saints”, praying to more than 150 saints by name, for divine guidance during the closed-door proceedings at the Vatican. The church leaders could remain secluded for several days as they whittle down candidate lists.

POTENTIAL POPES

“They will also take an oath to uphold the rights of the conclave,” said Douglas Herbert, France 24’s special correspondent outside the Vatican. “Everything that happens in the Sistine Chapel is subject to a very strict code.”

Cardinals must promise not to reveal anything that goes on during the conclave. “There will be regular prayer and of course, the reason they are there, regular voting,” Herbert added.

Their task remained to find one man among them to succeed Benedict XVI, who has withdrawn from public life after his surprise abdication last month. The former pontiff, who retired on Feb. 28, was not present on Tuesday.

No clear favourite

The solemn procession into the Sistine came after a morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, where Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an Italian, called for Church unity. “My brothers, let us pray that the Lord will grant us a pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart,” he said in his homily.

Vatican observers said there were no clear favourites before the start of the conclave, and pointed to stark divisions between prelates. They warned that the search for the new head of the church could take longer than the one that ended with Benedict’s election.

FRANCE 24 Debate: the next Pope

“In the modern era the average duration of these events has been three to four days,” said Herbert, “But there is no rush.”

While some priests have called for a strong manager to control the much criticised Vatican bureaucracy, others want a powerful pastor to combat growing secularism. There are also rifts between the historical core of the Church in Europe, and the developing world -where the church is more vibrant and growing the fastest today.

"I think we really need a pope who is more open to dialogue and more open to the world," Christian Weisner, a spokesman for the reform-minded We Are Church organisation told France 24. "Pope Benedict was an intellectual but many people couldn't understand his homilies."

Italy’s Angelo Scola and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer are spoken of as possible frontrunners. The former would return the papacy to Italy after 35 years. Scherer would be the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years.

However, a host of other candidates from numerous nations have also been mentioned as potential popes, including US cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley, Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Argentina’s Leonardo Sandri.

Waiting for a sign

According to Herbert, the cardinals were well aware of the challenges facing the church, which has been forced to recognise its sins and shortcomings after a string of sexual abuse cases reported worldwide.

It has also been hit by scandal after revelations of corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy. “They do come into this conclave with perhaps a sense, a consensus of sorts, of what type of man they are looking for,” Herbert noted.

A CHURCH DIVIDED BY INTERNAL STRUGGLE

For others, the conclave was a last opportunity to pull an ailing church from the brink of disaster.

"I think the church is in a very deep crisis and Pope Benedict's resignation was a sign of it," said Weisner of We Are Church. "It's not only the paedophilia issue. We need to start reforms now, this is the last chance for the Catholic Church."

The cardinals will cast ballots four times each day until one man has won a two-thirds majority - or 77 votes. Black smoke billowing from the Sistine, like the one seen on Tuesday, will mean no one has been elected. White smoke, along with the ringing bells of St. Peter’s Basilica, will herald a new pope.

As in mediaeval times, the cardinals will be banned from communicating with the outside world. The Vatican has taken high-tech measures to ensure secrecy in the 21st century, including electronic jamming devices to prevent eavesdropping.

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