Papal expert: Pontiff job description "impossible"

(CBS News) The conclave schedule dictates that Roman Catholic Church cardinals have taken three votes so far. At the last conclave in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was elected on the fourth ballot.

But this time, it may not happen in so few votes.

However, the lack of a conclusive vote was expected. The field is too wide open, and the issues are as complex as anything the church has ever had to face.

The two-by-two procession of the 115 "princes of the church" into the Sistine Chapel that the world saw on Tuesday has been the talking place since Michelangelo designed it the late 15th century.

As conclave opens, curia reform a dominant theme
Special Section: Change at the Vatican

Standing before his imposing depiction of the "Last Judgment," the cardinals placed their hand on a Bible and pledged to keep the proceedings in strictest confidence, ending with the words, "So help me God and these holy Gospels which I touch with my hand."

The bargaining, politicking and even simple discussion that go into deciding who to choose are set aside when the cardinals take their places at tables arrayed along either side of the stunning chapel. The atmosphere is of prayer and contemplation.

With an order on Tuesday, the Sistine Chapel was cleared of all but the cardinals and a few aides required to assist them, and then the door was locked with Swiss Guards to ensure it stays that way until the cardinals have voted.

Electing the pope became a cardinals-only affair in 1056. Locking them in was instituted 200 years later as a way to force them to do work quickly.

But this time, finding the right man for the job doesn't look like a task that can be done in a hurry. The Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest and author of "Inside the Vatican," said, "The job description is impossible. You know, they want a holy man, and yet they want a brilliant theologian, and yet he's supposed to be able to communicate with ordinary people, and he's supposed to be the CEO of a 1.2-billion member organization."

There are four votes a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Ballots are burned and black smoke is emitted after every second vote, unless someone gets 77 votes -- a two-thirds majority. Then, the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel will belch white smoke, signaling that a pope has been chosen.

The longest conclave in the last 100 years has been five days, the shortest just under two. The betting is that this one will fall somewhere in between.

For Allen Pizzey's full report, watch the video in the player above.