Papal decision made at Vatican [VIDEO/SLIDESHOW]


White smoke poured from the roof of the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica pealed, signaling that cardinals had chosen a new pope to lead the troubled Roman Catholic Church after only five ballots.

The decision by 115 cardinal electors came sooner than many faithful expected because of the large number of possible frontrunners identified before the vote to replace Pope Benedict, who resigned in February.

The name of the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics was expected to be announced in around half an hour from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first ballot in the Renaissance splendor of the chapel and four ballots were held on Wednesday. The white smoke indicated the new pontiff had obtained the required two thirds majority in the fifth ballot.

Following a split ballot when they were first shut away amid the chapel's Renaissance splendor on Tuesday evening, the cardinal electors held a first full day of deliberations on Wednesday. Black smoke rose after the morning session to signal no decision.

Cheers arose from hundreds of people sheltering from incessant rain under a sea of umbrellas in St. Peter's Square as the white smoke billowed from the narrow chimney.

The cardinals had faced a tough task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia.

The wave of problems are thought to have contributed to Pope Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

The last four popes were all elected within two or three days.

Seven ballots have been required on average over the last nine conclaves. Benedict was clear frontrunner in 2005 and elected after only four ballots.

The cardinals were shut inside for the secret election under Michelangelo's luminous frescos on Tuesday after a day of religious pomp and prayer to prepare for the task.

The initial inconclusive vote about two hours later was seen as a way of filtering the choice down to frontrunners for discussions among the supporters of the various candidates.

No hint emerged before the pope was chosen. The Vatican had taken precautions, including electronic jamming devices, to prevent any leaks from inside the conclave.

Faithful cheer as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, indicating a new pope has been elected at the Vatican, on March 13. Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Reuters

The new pope will take up a burden that Benedict declared in February was beyond his physical capabilities.

Apart from an child abuse scandals and the “Vatileaks” case, the Church has been shaken by rivalry from other churches, the advance of secularism, especially in its European heartland, and problems in the running the Vatican bank.

The former head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, is attending the conclave despite calls for him to stay away because of a sex abuse case that led to his censure by his successor Archbishop Jose Gomez in January. He was stripped of all public and administrative duties as punishment.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the victims in four sex abuse cases said the diocese, Mahony and an ex-priest had agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle. Mahony was accused of helping a confessed pedophile priest escape prosecution.

CARDINAL FRONTRUNNERS

Frontrunners at the conclave included Brazilian Odilo Scherer – who would be the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III, nearly 1,300 years ago – and Italy's Angelo Scola, who would return the papacy to traditional Italian hands after 35 years of the German Benedict XVI and Polish John Paul II.

In preparatory meetings before the conclave, the cardinals seemed divided between those who believe the new pontiff must be a strong manager to get the dysfunctional bureaucracy under control and others who are looking more for a proven pastoral figure to revitalize their faith across the globe.

Milan Archbishop Scola, who has managed two big Italian dioceses without being part of the Vatican's central administration, could be well-placed to understand the Curia's Byzantine politics and introduce swift reform.

Scherer is said to be the Curia's favored candidate and would satisfy those who want a non-European, reflecting the future of a Church shifting towards the developing world.

A host of other candidates from numerous nations have also been mentioned as potential popes – including U.S. cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O'Malley, Canada's Marc Ouellet and Argentina's Leonardo Sandri.

All the prelates meeting in the Sistine Chapel were appointed by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, and the next pontiff will almost certainly pursue their fierce defense of traditional moral teachings.

Additional reporting by Naomi O'Leary, Catherine Hornby, Crispian Balmer and Tom Heneghan and Georgina Prodhan in Vienna; Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Keith Weir and Alastair Macdonald

Sacks tells pope Jewish-Christian relations in Britain good


Following an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, Britain’s chief rabbi described relations between Christians and Jews in his country “as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio following his meeting with the pope on Monday, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said Benedict had raised the issue of the current state of Christian-Jewish relations.

The pope “continually wanted to know how was that state of relationship in Britain, where in fact of course it’s as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world,” Sacks said.

He said the pope also wanted “to reaffirm his belief in our shared belief in the god of Abraham, our shared commitment to the Ten Commandments and our shared belief that society must have a spiritual dimension.”

He said he and the pope were both “very concerned obviously with the soul of Europe, I mean Europe was built on Judeo-Christian foundations.”

Pope: I’ll fight anti-Semitism


Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from the Anti-Defamation League that he would continue to fight anti-Semitism.

At a meeting Wednesday the pope thanked the ADL delegation, saying, according to an ADL statement issued after the meeting, “It is very important what you do.”

When asked if he would continue to condemn anti-Semitism, the Pope replied: “I will, you know I will,” according to the statement.

The statement said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman asked the pope to work against the isolation of Israel on the global stage. “Please do not permit the world to isolate Israel,” Foxman said. Benedict reportedly replied, “I will be there.”

The delegation also raised the issue of recent anti-Jewish statements by Greek-Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros of Newton, Mass., following last month’s Synod at the Vatican of bishops from the Middle East.

Pope, in Israel, vows to fight anti-Semitism


Pope Benedict XVI vowed to fight anti-Semitism and called for an independent Palestinian state upon his arrival in Israel.

The pope also invoked the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and said he would pray for peace during his five-day visit to Israel, which began Monday morning when he landed in a plane belonging to the Jordanian royal family at Ben Gurion International Airport.

“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace—peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world,” Benedict said during a welcoming ceremony at the airport.

The pope said that at his scheduled visit later in the day to the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, he would “have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude.”

Benedict lamented the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism.

“Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable,” he said. “Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.”

The pope then switched his attention to achieving peace between Palestinians and Israel.

“In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders,” he said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres greeted the pope in Latin and Hebrew before addressing him in English.

“Your visit here brings a blessed understanding between religions and spreads peace near and far,” Peres said. “Historic Israel and the renewed Israel together welcome your arrival as paving the great road to peace from city to city.”

Following the airport ceremony, the pope flew by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he was greeted by Mayor Nir Barkat and a group of children waving Israeli flags and singing “Haveinu Shalom Aleichem.”

At Yad Vashem, the pope will meet with Holocaust survivors. Later he will attend a welcoming reception at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem.

The pope, who is traveling with a 40-person staff and 70 reporters, will stay at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Jerusalem during his visit. He is scheduled to visit the Temple Mount and the Western Wall on Tuesday, Bethlehem on Wednesday and Nazareth on Thursday. He will fly back to Rome Friday afternoon on a special El Al flight.

Upon the pope’s arrival,  “Operation White Robe,” which will include 80,000 police officers and security guards, went into effect to protect his safety.

Pope in Paris: ‘To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christian’ [VIDEO]


PARIS (JTA) – Jews and Christians should get to know each other better, Pope Benedict XVI said at a meeting with French Jewish leaders.

On the first day of his four-day visit to Paris, the pope condemned fanatics and anti-Semitism, called for a strengthening of bonds between Christians and Jews, and pushed for more religion in a staunchly secular French society.

Just before sundown Friday, the pope told Jewish leaders that “our fraternal links are a continual invitation to know each other better and to respect each other.”

At the former monastery in Paris where he spoke, the pope added that “the Church rises up against all forms of anti-Semitism” and “to be anti-Semitic is also to be anti-Christian.” Among the Jewish leaders present for the meeting was Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF umbrella organization.

Making his case for a more open view of religion in a country where religion is thought best kept private, Benedict warned that too little “obligation” would serve “the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shocked France last December—but seemed to have pleased the pope—when he began making his case for “positive secularism” as an alternative to the existing French mantra that demands strict separation of church and state, among other social codes.

On Sunday, the pope led a public Mass in the town of Lourdes, attracting about 150,000 followers.