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March 12, 2013

Conclave opens amid uncertainty

VATICAN CITY — Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel today to elect the next pope amid more upheaval and uncertainty than the Catholic Church has seen in decades: There’s no front-runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to fix the many problems.

On the eve of the vote, cardinals offered wildly different assessments of what they’re looking for in the next pontiff and how close they are to a decision. It was evidence that Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation has continued to destabilize the church leadership and that his final appeal for unity may go unheeded, at least in the early rounds of voting.

Cardinals held their final closed-door debate Monday over whether the church needs more of a manager to clean up the Vatican’s bureaucratic mess or a pastor to inspire the 1.2 billion faithful in times of crisis. The fact that not everyone got a chance to speak was a clear sign that there’s still unfinished business on the eve of the conclave.

“This time around, there are many different candidates, so it’s normal that it’s going to take longer than the last time,” Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Chile told The Associated Press.

“There are no groups, no compromises, no alliances, just each one with his conscience voting for the person he thinks is best, which is why I don’t think it will be over quickly,” he said.

None of that has prevented a storm of chatter over who’s ahead.

The buzz in the papal stakes swirled around Cardinal Angelo Scola, an Italian seen as favored by cardinals hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, a favorite of Vatican-based insiders intent on preserving the status quo.

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