College of cardinals agrees to start balloting next week to elect new pope

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Cardinals have set Tuesday as the start date for the conclave to elect the next pope.

The Vatican press office said the decision was taken during a vote afternoon of the College of Cardinals.

Tuesday will begin with a mass in the morning, followed by the first balloting in the afternoon.

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 governance within the Holy See itself.

Early in the week, the Americans were 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 yesterday, 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.

Pope Benedict XVI stepped down last month after nearly eight years in office, becoming the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. The 85-year-old blamed his failing health for his inability to carry on.

Under the rules of the famous secret ballot, the cardinals will vote until one of them achieves a two-thirds majority.