ROME (USA TODAY) -- The Vatican said on Friday that the conclave to pick the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will begin on Tuesday, March 12.
The announcement comes after five full days of pre-conclave congregations with the College of Cardinals.
PAPAL CONCLAVE: Countdown to date for pope pick to start Friday
Before the congregations began Monday, Lombardi said the decision on the conclave's start date would be made only after all the 115 cardinal electors expected to participate in the conclave were in Rome; the last of them, Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, arrived Thursday.
When it starts, the conclave will take place under a cloud of controversy, stemming mostly from charges that some of the cardinals are guilty of helping cover up evidence of sex scandals within the church. The Vatican Bank is also under investigation by Italian authorities on suspicion of money laundering.
Italian newspapers have speculated that the bubbling scandals, along with the pontiff's advanced age and fading health, may have been among the reasons Benedict decided to abdicate, the first pope in nearly 600 years to do so.