Pope Benedict is officially retired, and it's time for deliberations on his successor to begin in earnest. The "princes of the Church," top cardinals worldwide, will soon meet informally to discuss plans; on Monday, formal talks begin, Reuters reports. In closed-door general congregations, cardinals will assess potential candidates while also addressing Church issues, including sex abuse. The 115 cardinal electors have been praying to get ready for the decision, Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley says.
"I would imagine each of us has some kind of list of primary candidates, and others secondary," says Chicago cardinal Francis George. Many attending the Sistine Chapel conclave—which follows the general congregations and is only open to those under 80—will know only a few others in the room, and there won't be any official candidates. So how do cardinals learn about potential pontiffs? They ask around, and O'Malley says he's been "using the Internet a lot." If all goes as the Vatican hopes, the election could be held mid-March, with a pope in place before March 24, Palm Sunday. (Read more Pope Benedict XVI stories.)