VATICAN CITY -- As possible front-runners emerged ahead of a conclave to elect the next pope, Roman Catholic cardinals Monday wrapped up a week of discussion on issues facing the church, with some pushing unsuccessfully to extend their talks before the start of balloting.
In their last scheduled pre-conclave gathering on Monday morning, 28 cardinals addressed their colleagues, more than in any of the other sessions of the so-called general congregations. Over 150 speeches have been made since the meetings started last Monday.
After numerous cardinals discussed the Vatican's scandal-ridden and much criticized internal workings over the week, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, on Monday addressed attempts to bring transparency to the Vatican bank, which has long been tainted by money-laundering allegations.
By the end of the morning, more cardinals were still waiting to speak, prompting a vote of whether to hold an extra session, which was defeated.
Instead, cardinals took the afternoon off to continue private talks on who should replace Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned on Feb. 28. The 115 cardinal electors have already pushed back their expected move into Vatican accommodations reserved for them during the conclave from Monday night to Tuesday morning.
The cardinals are scheduled to unpack their bags at the Casa Santa Marta complex at 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, then attend a pre-conclave Mass with the public in St. Peter's Basilica before filing into the Sistine Chapel at 4:30 p.m. for the first ballot.
The cardinals are due to return to their residence at 7:30 p.m., but Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi noted that at the last conclave in 2005 the black smoke announcing no result on the first day of voting was emitted about 8 p.m.
"The first vote can take more time," he said. "Dinner may slip but we can keep it warm."
With a number of front-runners reportedly emerging among the cardinals, no choice is expected on the first ballot. The electors are said to have split roughly into two groups -- those who wish to reform the Vatican's bureaucracy and are backing Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, and cardinals who work at the Vatican who back Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, who has himself worked in the Curia.
Other candidates such as Canada's Marc Ouellet and charismatic Americans Timothy Dolan and Sean O'Malley are also predicted to win votes in the early ballots. With four ballots a day from Wednesday onward, one scenario envisages either Scola or Scherer building votes as ballots proceed, to reach the two-thirds majority of 77 votes required to be elected pope.
But should a standoff emerge between the two camps, compromise candidates may emerge, just as Karol Wojtyla emerged in 1978 as a late candidate and went on to become Pope John Paul II after two Italian cardinals were at loggerheads.
French Cardinal André Vingt-Trois has said there are as many as a dozen candidates who could take votes in the first ballot.
Separately, the 90 staffers who will attend to the cardinals during the conclave -- doctors, cooks, cleaners and drivers -- on Monday afternoon were sworn to secrecy.