Raleigh, N.C. — Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh, the pastoral leader for millions of Roman Catholics in the eastern half of North Carolina, celebrated a special Mass Monday to pray for the cardinals who will select the new pope.
Burbidge addressed the leadership change in his homily.
"We'll pray first in thanksgiving of our pope emeritus Benedict XVI and his faithful example," Burbidge said. "Then we'll pray for those human instruments, the cardinal electors who are entrusted wtih this awesome responsibility to choose the next successor of St. Peter."
In Rome, the date for that conclave has yet to be set, but cardinals met Monday to begin plans for it.
Of the 115 cardinals who can vote, 103 were on hand for the meeting, which over the coming days will discuss the problems of the church and give the cardinals a chance to get to know one another better.
And so they prayed together, chatted over coffee and 13 of them intervened to discuss organizational matters.
The fact that 12 more cardinals are still en route to Rome will mean a delay in setting a date for the conclave since the dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date won't be finalized until all the cardinals have arrived.
Among the first orders of business was the oath of secrecy each cardinal made, pledging to maintain "rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff."
The cardinals then agreed to send Benedict XVI a message on behalf of the group; the text was being worked on, the Vatican said.
The core agenda item is to set the date for the conclave and put in place the procedures to prepare for it, including closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out and de-bugged, lest anyone try to listen in on the secret conversations.
The first day of discussion was rocked by revelations of scandal, with Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien admitting that he had engaged in sexual misconduct not befitting a priest, archbishop or cardinal.
O'Brien last week resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and said he wouldn't participate in the conclave after four men came forward with allegations that he had acted inappropriately with them — the first time a cardinal has stayed away from a conclave because of personal scandal.
Separately, the Vatican is still reeling from the fallout of the scandal over leaked papal documents, and the investigation by three cardinals into who was behind it.
In one of his last audiences before resigning, Benedict met with the three cardinals who prepared the report and decided that their dossier would remain secret. But he gave them the go-ahead to answer cardinals' questions about its contents.
Another topic facing the cardinals is the reason they're here in the first place: Benedict's resignation and its implications. His decision to end 600 years of tradition and retire rather than stay on the job until death has completely altered the concept of the papacy, and cardinals haven't shied from weighing in about what that means for the next pope.
Burbidge said that man will have to be equipped to take on those issues.
"Not to run from them, to embrace them and move forward," he prayed Monday.
He hopes the next Pope will be able to help people see the joy of living the gospel.
"We need a Holy Father who is energetic. Someone who understands the world and the resources and tools we have available to bring the truth to others," he said.