ROME: Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world have gathered in Rome to begin the process of electing the next Pope.
The College of Cardinals will hold daily talks leading up to a conclave in which a new Pope will be chosen.
The election process comes after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down after nearly eight years in office leading the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
He was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
The first pre-conclave meeting on Monday morning is to be headed by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Cardinals – known as the “princes” of the Church – will discuss future challenges to the Church and discreetly weigh up possible papal candidates.
The conclave – to be held in the Sistine Chapel – is expected to take place next week, though not all of the 115 cardinals involved have yet arrived in Rome.
The conclave in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is expected to begin next week
Correspondents say the cardinal electors, those under the age of 80 who will take part in the conclave, will want the new Pope to be officially installed in time to preside over Holy Week.
Ceremonies start with Palm Sunday on 24 March and culminate in Easter the following Sunday.
Last year’s “Vatileaks” scandal is expected to be high on the agenda when the cardinals meet.
The scandal exposed corruption and infighting in the Vatican through a series of leaked documents, and the cardinals are expect this week to be briefed on a confidential report into the scandal seen by Pope Benedict.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says strict precautions against leaks of unauthorised information will be in operation at the Vatican until the next Pope has been chosen.
Technicians will debug the cardinals’ lodgings and mobile phones will be banned altogether during the conclave.
But some cardinals have suggested the internal workings and possible failings of the Vatican’s bureaucracy will not be a major factor in the decision to elect the next pope. (Agencies)