Cardinals discuss abuse at first meeting in Rome

(CBS News) VATICAN CITY - Most of the cardinals summoned to Rome to elect a new pope have now arrived. Of the 115 eligible to cast a ballot, 107 cardinals held their first pre-conclave meeting Monday about the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

Class was called for 9:30 in the morning, Rome time, for the College of Cardinals.

And many caught the early bus. They are the princes of a church rocked by the child-abuse and other scandals and they admit they've got a lot of homework to do before they can even set a date to begin voting on the next pope.

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The church is under intense scrutiny. There's no such thing as a quiet stroll to work here. The Catholic world --- and particularly the victims of abuse -- want answers.

Cardinal Francis George
Cardinal Francis George
Jeff Haynes/DePaul University via Getty Images

And many cardinals, like Chicago's Francis George, are here to argue the victims are right.

"They have been abused by a Catholic priest and sometimes by a Catholic bishop and sometimes the abuse has not been addressed as it should have been by Catholic bishops," George said. "That is a terrible wound on the body of the church."

In an interview, Cardinal George said the Vatican cannot ignore the news it has made just because it's bad.

"The headline stories do create context for our discussion," he said. "We follow the press, sometimes happily and sometimes not."

The cardinals themselves must decide when they've talked enough -- and prayed enough -- about the Church's problems to think about who might be the right man to fix them.

But the subtle jockeying for position has already begun. There's no campaigning for the job here, but there are ways of raising a profile. One is to lead an important mass in Rome, as Austrian Cardinal Schoenborn did.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada

Another is to do deny you're interested when your name makes the rounds.

Canada's Marc Ouellet is considered a compromise contender -- not another European, but not quite American either.

To discount the rumors, he fell back on the old Vatican line about what happens to Conclave favorites: "The one that gets in pope, gets out cardinal."

The cardinals may not know when the conclave will begin, but they know when they'd like it to end. They want to be home for the week before Easter, the Christian Holy week. And the longer they delay, the more the pressure will mount to stop talking and start voting.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.