Cardinals begin Meeting at the Vatican today...
The cardinals gathered on Monday morning, but haven't yet decided when the conclave to select Pope Benedict XVI's successor will start, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.
"It's on the table, but no decision has been reached," Lombardi said.
The General Congregations meeting is a key step before the conclave, when all cardinals under age 80 meet at the Vatican to vote for the next pope.
Lombardi said 142 cardinals attended Monday morning's session. Of that group, 103 were cardinal electors who will choose the next pope. Twelve cardinal electors have not yet arrived in Rome, but were expected to arrive later Monday and Tuesday, he said.
At the Monday morning meeting, the cardinals recited an opening prayer, took an oath and discussed the timetable for the coming days, Lombardi said. A second meeting was planned for Monday afternoon.
Benedict stepped down on Thursday, after announcing on February 11 that he would resign. He was the first pope to resign in 600 years. Throughout history, the transfer of papal power has almost always happened after the sitting pope has died.
Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant. However, Benedict slightly amended the 500-year-old policy on pope selection to get a successor into place more rapidly.
The cardinals may to be able to pull it off before March 15, Lombardi has said.
This would give the new pontiff a little over a week to prepare for the next Mass, the Palm Sunday celebrations on March 24.