German Cardinal Walter Kasper, left, shares a word with Indian Cardinal George Alencherry in St. Peter's Square following a cardinals' meeting, at the Vatican, Thursday, March 7, 2013. Cardinals from around the world are gathered inside the Vatican on the fourth day of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI's decision to retire. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday the conclave to elect a new pope will likely start in the first few days of next week, signaling that cardinals are coming to an end of discussions about the state of the church and who best among them might lead it.
Cardinals will vote Friday afternoon on the opening date of the conclave, a vote made possible by the arrival Thursday of the last of the 115 cardinal electors, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man.
The Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was "likely" the cardinals would choose Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday as the start date for the conclave. In the past 100 years, no conclave has lasted longer than five days.
That said, there is no front-runner in this election, and the past week of deliberations has exposed sharp divisions among cardinals about some of the pressing problems facing the church, including of governance within the Holy See itself.
Early in the week, the Americans had been pressing for more time to get to the bottom of the level of dysfunction and corruption exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year. But by Thursday afternoon, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles tweeted that the discussions were "reaching a conclusion" and that a mood of "excitement" was taking hold.
Vatican-based cardinals had been angling for a speedy end to the discussions, perhaps to limit the amount of dirty laundry being aired.
Aside from the conclave start date, Lombardi said a few items of business remain outstanding, including drawing lots for rooms at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel. On Friday, he showed a video of the room in which the new pope will sleep his first night as pontiff; it features a bed with a heavy, dark wood headboard featuring a carved image of Christ's face.
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