Cardinals to Decide on Conclave to Elect Pope

U.S. Cardinals (L-R) Daniel Di Nardo, Donald Wuerl, William Levada, and Francis George arrive for a meeting in the Synod Hall at the Vatican, Mar. 8, 2013.
The Vatican says Roman Catholic cardinals will decide Friday on when to start a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi says a decision on the vote is expected after 7 p.m. local time , following a two-hour meeting of the cardinals in Vatican City.

He says it is "likely" the conclave in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel will begin on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

All 115 of the cardinals eligible to elect a new pope will take part in Friday's meeting. Cardinals must be under age 80 to vote.

Cardinals have been holding closed-door meetings this week in Rome to plan a date for the conclave, a meeting bound by centuries-old tradition to elect a new pope.

The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope in place by Easter on March 31.

Papal contenders and electors around the world

Pope Benedict resigned last month after nearly eight years in office, becoming the first Roman Catholic Church leader to step down voluntarily in 600 years. He has pledged obedience to the next pope.

Vatican officials have been concerned that information discussed at this week's meetings may have been leaked. On Wednesday, the Vatican imposed a media blackout on all cardinals following Italian media reports suggesting some cardinals initiated the leaks.

Italian newspapers have speculated that the aim of the blackout was to silence American cardinals, who have been vocal about allegations of corruption and dysfunction within the Curia, the central administration of the Catholic church.

The cardinals gathered this week to discuss other questions facing the church. Among them was last year's "Vatileaks" scandal, in which confidential papal documents that shed light on power struggles inside top levels of the church were leaked to Italian journalists.

Also under discussion was the series of child sex abuse incidents by priests, which have shaken confidence in the church in recent years.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.