Cardinals get back to voting as prospect of drawn-out conclave looms large

Updated at 12:26 p.m. Eastern

VATICAN CITY Catholic cardinals have resumed voting to elect a new pope. The princes of the ancient Roman church are in the ornate Sistine Chapel for a second day Wednesday, trying to decide on a pontiff to replace Benedict XVI, who shocked the world by resigning on February 28. Two votes conducted Wednesday morning were inconclusive, but they can vote twice more before calling it a day.

Black smoke billowed from a small chimney on top of the iconic chapel Wednesday just before lunchtime in Rome, signaling that neither morning ballot saw any candidate garner 77 votes of the 115 available votes, the number required for a new pope to be elected.

All voting is conducted in complete secrecy and the results of each vote are never made public.

The cardinals will vote up to four times each day until the 77-vote threshold is reached.

Some of the cardinals, including New York's Timothy Dolan, expressed optimism prior to entering the conclave that it should be over within just a couple days, but others, including Americans, have suggested more time will be required due to there being no strong frontrunner heading into the process.

"This is very normal,'' Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi insisted in a news conference between Wednesday's voting sessions. "It's not a sign of particular divisions within the college, but rather of a normal process of discernment.''

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports, however, that serious fault lines in the College of Cardinals did emerge as they prepared for the conclave, pitting more traditionalist prelates -- many of them entrenched in the Vatican establishment and bureaucracy -- against those more interested in reform. Many of the reform-minded cardinals come from outside Italy, and think the Church's bureaucracy, known as the Curia, and penchant for secrecy are at the root of its problems.

Some secrets, nonetheless, are sacred. CBS News consultant and Inside the Vatican magazine editor Delia Gallagher explains that the cardinals have sworn an oath of secrecy and risk excommunication if they speak to anyone apart from the other cardinal electors during the conclave process.

Gallagher says the cardinals likely narrowed the field of potential candidates down in their Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning votes to just a couple of men, but if they fail to reach an absolute majority consensus by the end of Wednesday, that dynamic will shift and the prospects for a short conclave will diminish sharply.

If it continues into Thursday, Gallaher says it will be a sign that the field is still relatively open. A drawn-out conclave is also thought to indicate a greater chance for the election of an "outsider" -- a cardinal from the Americas, Asia or Africa.

"The bottom line is that if today fails to deliver a pope, all bets are off in terms of who might step out on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica wearing white," John Allen, a respected Vatican journalist for the National Catholic Reporter, wrote Wednesday.

If the cardinals are still deadlocked on Friday night Church rules say they must take a day off from voting for prayer and reflection. That day of rest would fall on Saturday, with the voting to resume on Sunday.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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