The 15 to 20 day waiting period is in place to allow time for all cardinals who don’t live in Rome to arrive, under the usual circumstance of a pope dying. But in this case the cardinals already know that this pontificate will end Feb. 28, with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and therefore can get to Rome in plenty of time to take part in the conclave, Lombardi said.

The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Palm Sunday Mass followed by Easter Sunday on March 31. In order to have a new pope in place in time for the most solemn liturgical period on the church calendar, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, because of the strong tradition to hold installation Mass on a Sunday. Given the tight time frame, speculation has mounted that some arrangement would be made to start the conclave earlier than a strict reading of the law would allow.

Since then, Americans have taken part in every conclave, with the size of the American contingent increasing over the decades. Nine Americans took part in the October 1978 conclave that elected Pope John Paul II, and there were 11 cardinals in 2005, matching today’s total.

These 11 are  current seated Bishops that are active and not retired that will vote:

Raymond Leo Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Daniel Nicholas DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston

Timothy Michael Dolan, archbishop of New York

Francis Eugene George, O.M.I., archbishop of Chicago

James Michael Harvey, archpriest of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls Basilica in Rome

William Joseph Levada, prefect-emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Roger Michael Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles

Edwin Frederick O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem

Sean Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Boston

Justin Francis Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia

Donald William Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.

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