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Cardinal George: Unclear When Papal Conclave Will Begin

Cardinals arrive at the Paul VI hall for the opening of the Cardinals' Congregations on March 4, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The congregations of cardinals will continue until all cardinal electors have arrived in Rome, whereupon the College will decide on the start-date of the Conclave to elect a new Pope.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Cardinals arrive at the Paul VI hall for the opening of the Cardinals’ Congregations on March 4, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The congregations of cardinals will continue until all cardinal electors have arrived in Rome, whereupon the College will decide on the start-date of the Conclave to elect a new Pope. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

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UPDATED: 3/4/2013 2:40 p.m.

(CBS) – Roman Catholic cardinals held their first meeting Monday ahead of electing a new pope, but Cardinal Francis George said it’s still not clear when the conclave will begin.

George, the archbishop of Chicago, was among the 142 cardinals to meet inside the Vatican on Monday to discuss a timetable for picking the next leader of the Catholic Church.

The cardinals have yet to set a date for the conclave, when every cardinal under age 80 will meet to vote for the successor to Benedict XVI.

“Someone quoted St. Thomas of Aquinas, where he said you should very slow in deliberation, and then very quick in decision making,” George said.

The cardinal said he’d like the new pope to be in place in time for Holy Week, which begins on March 24, so he can be back in Chicago, but it’s unclear how long it will take to reach consensus.

This is George’s second conclave. The first was 2005, after the death of Pope John Paul II, when the cardinals elected Germany’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI.

George said, while the procedure this time is the same, the fact it follows a retirement and not a death is notable.

“It also raises the question whether or not that resignation has impacted our sense of the papal office, and I’m not sure whether it has or it hasn’t,” he said.

It is also shaping up to be a conclave for the new age of communications, with pool cameras everywhere and observers with unprecedented access, though somewhat limited in what they can tell us.

Each cardinal took an oath not to reveal what goes on inside the closed meetings before or the votes during the upcoming conclave.

However, there was more access to the cardinals than before, with a full press briefing.

‘Externally perhaps they decided it’s best to talk to the press instead of not talk to the press,” George told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. “So the hope that they follow up with that we’re off perhaps to a better start than last time.”

The cardinal said the next pope and the church must continually address the issue of sexual abuse by priests, and care for their victims.

“As long as it’s with them, it’s with all of us, and that will last for a long time, so the next pope has to be very aware of this,” George said.

Even once a date for the conclave is set, George said it’s unclear how long the actual vote will take.

Benedict XVI was elected on the second day of the 2005 papal conclave, after four ballots. His predecessor, John Paul II, was elected on the third day of the conclave of October 1978, after eight ballots.