Pope conclave: Last cardinal arrives at Vatican

Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man greets Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria as they arrive for a meeting at the Vatican
Image caption The cardinals choosing the new pope are sworn to secrecy

The last of the 115 cardinals who will elect the new pope has arrived in Rome.

Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man joined his colleagues in closed-door discussions at the Vatican.

His presence means a date can now be set for the conclave to choose a successor to Benedict XVI as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict stepped down last month after nearly eight years in office, becoming the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.

Since Monday the elector cardinals have been holding preparatory meetings and prayers known as "general congregations" before the conclave begins.

The discussions are held under an oath of secrecy, but Italian newspapers have published what they say are leaked details of the debate on problems faced by the church.

Reform of the Vatican's bureaucracy - known as the Curia - and the Vatican bank have both been on the agenda, the reports say.

Last year European regulators said the bank was not doing enough to combat money laundering, while intrigue in the Vatican was revealed by documents leaked by Pope Benedict's butler.


Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said all the cardinals should respect their vow of secrecy.

"If anyone knows who is violating this, they should say so," he said at a news briefing.

On Wednesday US cardinals stopped holding daily press briefings after others expressed concern that confidentiality was being undermined.

Under church law, the cardinals have until 20 March to begin a conclave to choose a new leader for the 1.2 billion-strong Church.

Vatican staff have been preparing the Sistine Chapel, where the conclave will take place, installing the two stoves that will produce white smoke from burnt ballot papers when a new pope is elected by a two-thirds majority.

The last "general congregations" in 2005 took three days, and correspondents say the delay is being seen as a reflection of the many challenges facing the Church.

During Benedict's reign the Catholic Church was wracked by a worldwide scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests.

There are also tensions between traditionalists and reformers over issues including priestly celibacy, gay rights and the role of women.

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