Conclave to Elect Next Pope: Is Political Drama Unfolding in Vatican City?

PHOTO: Cardinals at the VaticanPlayAlessandra Tarantino/AP Photo
WATCH Conclave to Elect Next Pope Begins March 12

Now that the conclave to elect the next pope will begin Tuesday, a political drama appears to be unfolding behind closed doors at the Vatican, with Italian media reporting that U.S. cardinals are trying to sway the selection process.

Several Italian newspapers have reported that the U.S. cardinals had been resisting pressure from Italian cardinals to convene the conclave right away. The Italians have more votes and more visibility, so a quick vote is thought to favor them.

Two broad factions appear to be the Romans and the reformers. On one side are mostly Italian insiders, whom some newspapers refer to here as the "feudal lords" of the Vatican. They're eager to protect their fiefdoms and have reportedly drafted a Brazilian as their front man: the Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer.

"The Roman Curia seems to like him," said John Thavis, author of "The Vatican Diaries."

"Basically, that seems to be the argument against him for the reformers."

RELATED: Pope Benedict XVI Resignation: Meet the Papal Contenders

The reformers -- reportedly led by the U.S. delegation -- essentially want a new sheriff in town to clean the place up, possibly even an American. The Vatican has been so fraught with scandal in recent years that the Italian media are all but cheering them on.

As they look to the conclave Tuesday, when they'll first say a special mass for the election of a pope, the cardinals appear to be no closer to reaching a consensus.

RELATED: By the Numbers: Catholics in America

The winning candidate must get at least 77 votes, a clear two-thirds majority among the 115 voting cardinals.

The first vote will take place Tuesday night, but don't expect white smoke right away indicating that the process is over. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington told the Turin newspaper La Stampa: "The conclave will not be short."

After that the cardinals will take two votes in the morning and two votes in the evening until they have a pope. All the votes are made during silent prayer within the Sistine Chapel, which has been closed to tourists.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see this go three or four days," Thavis said. "After that, the cardinals leave the impression they can't make a choice."

But the Vatican says there's no problem with the cardinals taking their time.

Greg Burke, a senior Vatican media adviser, said, "I don't think they're in any huge hurry. It's obviously a huge decision they have to make."

Even if the conclave drags on, it's likely to wrap up well before Holy Week, the most important days of the church calendar.

The Vatican is hoping the new pope will be in place to celebrate Palm Sunday (March 24) through Easter (March 31) at St. Peter's, and the cardinals hope to be home with their respective flocks.