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Vietnamese cardinal arrives, last one for conclave

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — The last cardinal who will participate in the conclave to elect the next pope arrived Thursday in Rome.

A date, therefore, now can be set for the election. One American cardinal said a decision is expected soon on the start date.

The arrival in Rome of Vietnam's Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man marks that all 115 cardinal electors are in place. He entered the Vatican auditorium for the session without speaking to reporters.

Some American and other cardinals had said they want to continue the pre-conclave meetings that have been going on all week for as long as it takes so that they can discern who among them has the best qualifications to be pope. They also want more time to discuss the Roman Catholic Church's problems.

Some Vatican-based cardinals —defensive about criticisms of the Vatican's internal governance that have been aired recently — want to get on with the vote. They said there's no reason to delay.

“Hopefully it will be a short conclave and start very soon,” Vatican-based Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes of Germany was quoted as telling the German daily Bild. “I would compare it with a visit to the dentist — you want to get everything over with quickly.”

U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony tweeted that the discussions are “reaching a conclusion.”

“Setting of date for conclave nearing. Mood of excitement prevails among Cardinals,” he wrote.

Once the conclave starts, there is very little time for discussion.

Cardinals take two votes in the morning, two votes in the afternoon — all of them conducted in silent prayer, not chatter, amid the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. As a result, setting the date for the start of the conclave is akin to setting the deadline for when pre-conclave deliberations will finish.

These discussions are designed to give cardinals an opportunity to get to know one another better and dive into the problems confronting the church and who among them is best suited to fix them.

Cardinals received a briefing on the Holy See's finances amid questions about the administration of the Vatican bureaucracy and continued suspicions about the Vatican bank.

As such, “it seems very normal and very wise” to wait to set the conclave date until all cardinals are confident that they're nearing an end to their deliberations, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

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