Lombardi said that 142 cardinals were present in the Paul VI Hall this morning, including 103 of the 115 who are eligible to vote. Fr Lombardi noted two absences: “Indonesia and Scotland” – a reference to Julius Darmaatmadja, archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, who is suffering from ill health, and Keith O’Brien, who yesterday issued a dramatic apology for “inappropriate conduct” following complaints from three priests and a former priest.
Each of the cardinals this morning took an oath on the Bible to keep the contents of the meetings secret.
Fr Lombardi told journalists that the cardinals would be drafting a message to be sent to Pope Emeritus Benedict. He also said that Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, would lead a meditation for the cardinals this afternoon.
Three cardinals – Battista Re, Crescenzio Sepe, and Franc Rode – were chosen by lot to help assist in the general functioning of the Church in the time before the election of the new pope.
The final electors are due to arrive this afternoon and tomorrow morning.
A second General Congregation will start at 5pm today. It has yet to be decided whether on subsequent days meetings will take place in the afternoons or just in the mornings.
During these pre-conclave discussions, cardinals are traditionally given four-minute slots during which they will discuss the state of the Church and what the priorities of the next papacy should be. Those who are over 80 and not eligible to vote are allowed to take part in the discussions. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop emeritus of Westminster, is due to speak at this stage.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, said that the cardinals would set about deciding on a start date for the conclave. Early on in the week the rules of electing the new pope will be read out, along with the “motu proprio” issued by Pope Benedict last week altering the rules of conclave to enable cardinals to bring forward the start date – if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition between pontificates.