Conclave to elect a new pope to begin Tuesday

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Pope Benedict made his final appearance on a balcony in Castel Gandolfo he addressed faithful for the last time and then made the sign of the Cross to bless the crowds and disappeared into the building. (Vatican TV / CNN)

The Catholic cardinals gathered in Rome voted Friday to begin the secret election, or conclave, to elect a new pope next Tuesday afternoon, the Vatican said.

The 115 cardinal-electors taking part in the conclave will enter the closed-door process after a morning Mass, the Vatican said. Only those younger than 80 are eligible to vote.

The cardinals voted Friday morning to accept the letters of explanation of two cardinal-electors who are eligible to vote for the next pope but will not attend the conclave: Keith O’Brien of Scotland and Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia.

Darmaatmadja cited health reasons, and O’Brien cited personal reasons.

O’Brien resigned in scandal last week after allegations that he made sexual advances toward young men studying to be priests. He apologized in a statement Sunday, saying, “There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

Since Monday, the cardinals have been uniting for what are known as General Congregations, a series of meetings in which they discuss the issues facing the church.

These include how to tackle the issue of child sex abuse by priests and a scandal over leaks from the Vatican last year that revealed claims of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.