Rome conclave: Cardinals voting again on new pope

Black smoke issues from Sistine Chapel chimney The cardinals will keep voting until a new Pope is chosen

Catholic cardinals meeting at the Vatican have been holding another round of voting to choose a new Pope.

The session in the Sistine Chapel follows two inconclusive rounds on Wednesday morning, and there is no sign of a positive result so far.

Cardinals are meeting for a second day to choose a successor to Pope Benedict, who resigned last month.

The 115 electors are to remain isolated until two-thirds agree a leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

At the scene

A panorama of multi-coloured umbrellas massed on St Peter's Square on Wednesday morning as pilgrims braved tempestuous conditions to take up their smoke-watch vigil.

The faithful huddled in their plastic ponchos - it's been a bumper time for street-hawkers selling plastic sheets and cheap brollies.

Eyes darted between the rust-coloured chimney stack on the Sistine Chapel and the big screens dotted around the square.

Some carrying bedraggled national flags were backing their country's favourites. Some were praying for peace and unity in the Church.

Others still just wished the cardinals would clear out of the Sistine Chapel so they could get a glimpse of Michelangelo's Last Judgement.

The good news: After a third round of voting, smoke billowed from the chimney at 11:38 (10:38 GMT). The bad news: It was black. No Pope. Veteran Vatican watchers urge patience. For chimney-watchers on the square, the vigil goes on.

The cardinals will vote four times daily until a single candidate garners a two-thirds majority.

A successful vote would immediately be followed by white smoke from a chimney on the roof and, soon afterwards, the Latin announcement "Habemus Papam" - we have a Pope.

Black smoke indicates no pope has yet been chosen.

Before the conclave began there was no clear frontrunner to replace Benedict XVI.

The 85-year-old stepped down last month, saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church, which is beset by problems ranging from a worldwide scandal over child sex abuse to allegations of corruption at the Vatican Bank.

'Perfectly normal'

Voting takes place in silence, with no formal debate, until a decision is reached. If that does not happen after three days, there may be a pause for prayer and informal discussion for a maximum of one day.

Crowds waiting for a result once again braved rainy conditions in St Peter's Square to watch out for smoke issuing from the chimney.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was "perfectly normal" for there to be no result at this stage of the conclave, and not a sign of division among the cardinals.

"One should not interpret this as being division or divisiveness amongst the cardinals, take into consideration the size of the group and the normal process," he said.

Two US students who were in St Peter's Square described seeing the black smoke

Only one pontiff in the last 100 years, wartime Pope Pius XII, had been elected after just three rounds of voting, he added.

He said he had been "surprised" by the number of people who turned out in St Peter's Square to watch the first smoke on Tuesday night, and said the crowds would surely grow as suspense mounted.

"We are living a beautiful and intense moment," Fr Lombardi said.

He added that Benedict - now Pope emeritus - was "doing well" and following the ceremony "with great interest".

Fr Lombardi also defended a number of cardinals, amid calls that they be excluded from the conclave because of their alleged role in covering up child sex abuse cases by priests.

He accused the campaign group Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) of "negative prejudices" for saying that US Cardinal Roger Mahony and others were unfit to take part.

"We are convinced there are excellent reasons for why these cardinals should be respected and have every right to be in the conclave," he added, saying that they had "given their explanations".

Smoke from the Sistine Chapel

  • Two stoves, one to burn ballot papers, one to send out black or white smoke
  • First stove is cast iron, used in six previous conclaves
  • Second stove is electronic device, which can be fitted with cartridges to produce the appropriate smoke
  • Brought in to produce unmistakeable signal after confusion over smoke colour at previous conclaves
  • Cartridge, measuring 25x15x7 cm, releases five flares over seven minutes
  • Colour of smoke depends on chemicals in the cartridge
  • To produce black smoke: potassium perchlorate; anthracene; sulphur
  • To produce white smoke: potassium chloride; lactose; chloroform

Source: Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica

On Tuesday, Cardinal Mahony's former Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay out nearly $10m (£6.7m) to settle four cases of sexual abuse by a former priest, Father Michael Baker.

Unusual outcome?

The secrecy of the conclave means we have no idea who has done well or badly in the early rounds of voting, the BBC's James Robbins in Rome says.

But there could come a point after several days when the cardinals share a fear that indecision could be interpreted by the outside world as evidence of profound division, he adds.

In 2005 it took four votes for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - the future Benedict XVI - to be elected Pope.

But he was a clear favourite before the conclave began, and the long illness of his predecessor, John Paul II, meant cardinals had plenty of time to prepare and consider who they wanted to lead the Church.

This time, speculation has focused on three contenders: Angelo Scola of Italy, Brazilian Odilo Scherer and Marc Ouellet of Canada.

But some analysts argue that Benedict's surprise abdication - the first by a Pope in six centuries - could be followed by an equally unusual outcome, with an outsider emerging as a compromise candidate.

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