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Vatican spokesman: Cardinals have gone into 'a retreat'

As the world watches for signs of whether its Catholic leaders have chosen a new pope, the conclave of cardinals making that decision feel no pressure to rush through the process, the Vatican spokesman said Wednesday.The cardinals are aware of the urgency from outsiders, but among themselves, they’re more concerned about their key mission, spokesman Greg Burke told TODAY.“They’re lopped off

As the world watches for signs of whether its Catholic leaders have chosen a new pope, the conclave of cardinals making that decision feel no pressure to rush through the process, the Vatican spokesman said Wednesday.

The cardinals are aware of the urgency from outsiders, but among themselves, they’re more concerned about their key mission, spokesman Greg Burke told TODAY.

“They’re lopped off from television and from the newspapers and all the rest and, as of yesterday, the climate has really changed. They’ve gone into, essentially, a retreat,” where they spend most of their time praying, Burke said.

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“They’re not too worried of getting it over in a day or two days or, as some people have said, getting back by Palm Sunday, but of really choosing the person they believe should lead the Catholic world,” he said.

The conclave of 115 cardinals eligible to select a new pope must reach a two-third majority – or 77 votes – to settle on a successor to Benedict XVI.

“If it had happened this morning, that would have been a great surprise,” Burke said.

The cardinals are keenly aware of how much social responsibility rests on the next pope, he said. Sexual scandals and financial crisis have rocked the Vatican in recent years, and Catholic cardinals and bishops have spent time openly addressing the topics over the past several weeks, Burke said.

“That’s part of it. One cardinal has said, too, ‘It’s interesting that the media has one idea of what’s going on in there, and then there’s the real news, which is going on in there,’” he said. “So I think it’s a part of it. I don’t think responsibility, accountability are perhaps the top thing. They are, in the end, looking for somebody they’re calling the vicar of Christ, and that is the key thing they’re looking for.”

The new pope will ultimately succeed Benedict XVI, who became the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years. He stepped down last month as the leader of the Roman Catholics, citing health reasons.

Media reports have described Benedict watching the proceedings, looking for black or white smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel chimney like thousands of others.

“I don’t think he’s watching every day,” Burke said. “He watched the initial things yesterday, and I assume from now on, it will be the news, just like he watches every day.”

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