Even without a pope, the Vatican is not so quiet

This is the first Sunday in nearly eight years that Pope Benedict XVI is no longer leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

As cardinals gather to pick the next pope, the church released more difficult news.

After days of denial, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Scotland admitted: "My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."

He said he would play "no further part" in the public life of the church. He will not vote on the next pope.

There may be a void at the center of the Catholic Church, but the politicking has begun on who should fill it.

The window at which the pope normally appears on a Sunday is shuttered. The square where the multitudes normally gather is empty.

Most of the cardinals who will select the next pope have arrived to begin what they call discussions -- Vatican code for the intense negotiations that ultimately become votes.

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It's prayers and politics for a church whose problems run from its child abuse scandal, to financial mismanagement, to an administrative structure many believe is broken.

All of which is why American cardinals, like Chicago's Francis George, have been pushing the idea that the next pope -- unlike the last one -- has to be more than simply a spiritual leader.

"We have to have someone who is willing to govern, not just pastorally with the whole universe in mind, universal church in mind, but, but administratively to see that the administration is better ordered," George said. "Not that he has to do it himself."

The cardinals haven't decided yet when the tourists will stop being allowed into the Sistine Chapel so that it can be prepared for the Papal Conclave.

It has to be reconfigured with desks for the Cardinal Electors on top of raised platforms, it's thought, to conceal electronic jamming devices that prevent any unauthorized communication. There are also, of course, the stoves that burn the ballots and produce the traditional black or white smoke signals.

The cardinals are due to begin their discussions Monday called "congregation," but just how long they'll talk about the Church's problems before they decide on when to actually start voting in the formal conclave is unknown. Many Cardinals have said the problems are so large they'll need at least a week -- maybe more -- before they can get down to electing the man whose job it will be to fix them.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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