There is one thing certain about picking a new pope: there is nothing certain about picking a pope. While there are predictions that the conclave could begin as soon as tomorrow, it likely will take longer for the cardinals to start the sealed process.

The Rev. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, believes the process will moved quickly once it begins.

 Sirico, who is traveling to Rome this week, said he expects the process to move swiftly.

“I will be surprised if we didn’t have a date for the conclave by the end of (today),” said Sirico. “My guess is that it will be a week later.”

Under the church’s constitution, the cardinals would have been required to set the conclave between March 15 and March 20, but in one of his last acts as pope, Benedict allowed the cardinals to change the date.

There is a general feeling among the cardinals to move the process along, but not all the cardinals have arrived at the Vatican yet. As with nearly everything at the Vatican, there is a strictly formal process: the dean of cardinals greets those present, there is time for prayer and meditation, and a pledge of secrecy regarding the proceedings. There is also a drawing to see which cardinals will act as assistants during the conclave. In addition, this is the first time many of the cardinals have met, or seen each other in a long time, and time is set aside for fraternizing.

¬†”They will take a kind of reading of where the cardinals see the church and what are the needs of the church,” said Sirico.

The cardinals will meet twice today in morning and late afternoon sessions beginning around 3:30 a.m. Detroit time.

“They will probably have a date for the conclave late Monday,” said Sirico.

“If they don’t, then that tells you there are strong disagreements.”

While many are making predictions as to who the next pope will be, it is still a process that can be quite unpredictable. The election of a pope from Poland in the not-so-distant past is a good reminder of that.

Read “Grand Rapids-based priest expects cardinals to announce conclave today” in The Detroit News.