St. Peter's Basilica and Square, Vatican City/AP
by Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
VATICAN CITY -- The process of picking a successor to Pope Benedict XVI officially got underway Monday with more than 100 of the electors meeting in "congregations," but press officials said the dates of the papal conclave will not be set until all the cardinal electors are in town.
Of the 115 cardinals who can vote, 103 were in Rome for the pre-conclave meeting in which the cardinals a chance to get to know one another better. The Vatican said the cardinals prayed together and talked over coffee.
Twelve more cardinals had yet to arrive. The dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, has said a date won't be finalized until all the cardinals are at the Vatican.
On Monday each cardinal present took an oath pledging to honor "rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff." The cardinals also agreed to send pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned Friday, a message on behalf of the group, the Vatican said.
Benedict XVI remained holed up at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home while cardinals pick his successor.
Television crews swarmed around the red-capped churchmen as they entered.
"A Latin American Pope is possible, everything is possible!" said Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins as he entered.
The cardinals also discussed procedures for closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out. It was revealed that someone dressed as a bishop and with a staff of fake priests tried unsuccessfully to sneak into the meetings.
Fr. Federico Lombardy, Vatican spokesman, declined to comment, saying only: "All I can say is that everyone seated for the congregation is a real cardinal."
All told, 142 of 207 cardinals -- including those aged 80 or older, who cannot vote for the next pope -- participated in the morning meetings. Most of the remaining cardinal electors are expected to arrive later Monday or on Tuesday. Lombardi did not exclude the possibility that the full contingent might not be gathered until Wednesday or later.
On cardinal who will not be arriving is Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who admitted Sunday that he was guilty of "inappropriate" relations with priests in the 1980s.
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