Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Meet the Papabili: a Handy Guide to the Popefuls of Conclave 2013

baby new pope stork

As you likely already know (especially if you follow this blog, as it’s just about all I can think about right now) the papal election is only a day away. It’s probably about time we take a look at the front-runners before we Roman Catholics head to the polls. Oh, right, I forgot. We don’t get to pick our leader.

Be that as it may, I know that when I’m standing in that crowd of 100,000 or more people in St. Peter’s Square, waiting for the name of the new pope to be announced, I’m going to want to know whether to cheer with abandon and hope for the future of the church, or shake my head and think, “More of the same…”

After my last two mega-posts (particularly yesterday’s ridiculous 3,162-word tome that took me nearly literally the entire day to write), my solicitous maritino tactfully suggested that if I wanted my readers to actually read my posts (all the way through), I’d do best to consider shortening them just a tad. And as unpleasant as it is to admit your spouse is right, I think he is. Now, if I had a typical Italian husband, this is where I’d probably insert a joke about him only being concerned that my over-zealous blogging was preventing me from preparing his beloved nightly pasta. No, dearest bloglings, not even a hint! Yes, I got one of the good ones, but more on that another time (definitely after conclave).

So back to our friendly cardinals, one of who will have, in just a few days, the power to change the world. In Italian, a cardinal who is considered a strong candidate for the papacy is called a papabile (plural: papabili), literally pope-able. Frankly, I prefer Stephen Colbert’s term, “Popeful.”

Out of the 115 cardinal-electors participating in conclave this year, there are according to some up to 30 papabili, although for reasons mentioned above, I will be writing a much more abbreviated list.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy. Archbishop of Milan.
Card. Scola is the clear front runner for this race. He’s got what some people consider the perfect combination of an Italian with tons of experience, and yet someone who has never actually worked inside the Vatican, so he can’t be blamed for the recent mismanagement of the Church. Out of all the others, he is the cardinal considered most likely to gain the 2/3 majority. But in Rome there is an expression, “He who goes into a conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal.” So maybe we shouldn’t bet on Scola yet. (Although he’s being given excellent odds with the bookies in town!) What could go against him: his name was dropped in the Vatileaks scandal last year as someone who should replace Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina. Prefect for the Congregations of the Eastern Churches.
A few weeks ago, I predicted Card. Sandri for pope, and I still think he has a good shot, but in recent weeks, it’s seeming less likely. No one seems to be talking about him. Still, to me, on paper, Sandri is the ideal candidate. He covers all the bases for what it is believed the cardinals are looking for in the future pope: as a South American he has a deep understanding of the church outside Europe, but he has also spent most of his life in Italy and has worked as an high-level administrator in the Vatican. He proved himself as a good organizer when he worked directly under John Paul II. What could go against him: he could be blamed for the poor organization in the Vatican of recent years (although he left his previous position several years ago).

Cardinal Séan Patrick O’Malley of the United States. Archbishop of Boston.
If Card. Sandri is who I think could become pope, Card. O’Malley is who I hope will become pope. I was first introduced to him by Patricia Thomas on her wonderful blog, Mozzarella Mamma, which I have mentioned several times lately. Read her post on him, as she is a fan as well, for much more insight than I could hope to give. I just have a gut reaction to O’Malley. First of all, he’s a monk, and you can’t get much humbler than that. He shuns the Cardinal red and instead wears a simple cassock and hood of a Capuchin as he goes about his business here in Rome. He took over in Boston after the Bernard Law fiasco, and has worked tirelessly advocating for the victims of sex abuse by priests. What could go against him: he is well known for his reputation as a reformer, and the big Italian bloc inside the Vatican curia will do anything to keep him from becoming pope and challenging their status quo. But miracles can happen!

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the United States. Archbishop of New York.
Card. Dolan is an energetic powerhouse of a cardinal, and despite being a dreaded American, he is generally well liked by the Italian faction. The Italian paper La Repubblica calls him a “shadow candidate,” as he could be a potential compromise candidate for the two opposing factions, being called the Romans vs. the Reformers. While certainly not as change-hungry as O’Malley, Dolan has acknowledged that the church is in crisis and some reform is necessary. What I like about him is that he gets things done. He prefers to do things himself, instead of delegating them to others, which can only be a good thing. What could go against him: he is seen by some as “too American,” with little understanding of the rest of the world, and very poor foreign language skills.

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil. Archbishop of Sao Paolo.
There has been lots of talk lately about this Brazilian candidate of German descent. He is highly favored to be elected, particularly because of his close ties with those in power in the Vatican curia. But my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” so… Next!

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines. Archbishop of Manila.
I’d like to imagine a Roman Catholic Church in which a man like Cardinal Tagle could be elected. Vatican expert John L. Allen says that if the cardinals’ first priority were to have a pope who would be a moving, rousing evangelizer, capable of “setting people on fire with enthusiasm for the faith, and if they wanted that evangelizer to come from outside the West," Tagle would be the obvious choice. He is only 55 years old, and widely considered the most charismatic and dynamic candidate, and is also admired for his simplicity and humility, (he gets around only by bike or on public transport). What could go against him: there are very few electors from Asia, and without a strong faction behind him, he will have a hard time gaining the 2/3 majority. He also is very unfamiliar with the workings of the Vatican. (Or maybe that’s a good thing?)

Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada. Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
Card Ouellet’s combination of fierce intellect, near-fluency in six languages, and several years of missionary experience in Colombia makes him a very interesting candidate for pope. To that he combines years of experience inside the Vatican. What could go against him: He is said to radiate prayerfulness and spirituality, which you would think would be ideal characteristics in a pope, but some think he might be overlooked because his inherent goodness might make it difficult for him to make the tough decisions that inevitably await a pope.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria. Archbishop of Vienna.
John L. Allen, in his series of articles, Papabile of the Day, the Men who could be Pope, describes Card. Schonborn as either an obvious, slam-dunk contender or somebody who's basically taken himself out of the running.” He’s something of a wild card, and not the most diplomatic of cardinals, but he has spoken out strongly against the sex abuse issues inside the church (he, along with Card. Tagle, are the only two papabili not implicated in any way in any of the sex abuse cover-ups). In fact, he stirred up more than a little trouble with Secretary of State Bertone and some other big-wigs in the Vatican curia, and he is definitely not in their good books. This might just work in his favor for those cardinals who are desirous of a change to the “old guard” and looking for someone who has no qualms about standing up to his opponents. What could go against him: those very same big-wigs will stop at nothing to prevent him from becoming pope, as they would probably all lose their cushy positions. Perhaps even more damning, the situation in Austria is a mess, which makes it look like he’s lacking in the all-important organizational and administrative department.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. President for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Getting the number three best odds with bookies is the friendly, popular and dynamic Card Turkson, the most likely out of all the African candidates. Turkson is favored both for his long pastoral experience of 17 years in the the diocese of Cape Coast, and for his administrative skills, proven in his current post. In addition, he conveniently answers the desire for a pope to represent the most growing Catholic population, yet without being an outsider. Another plus is his advocation for Catholic/Muslim relations, a very timely plus on his resume. What could go against him: a few recent shenanigans have asked many to question his judgement. He once showed biased and already discredited YouTube video on Muslim immigration in Europe at a synod, he has made questionable remarks linking homosexuality with pedophilia, and some claim he is unabashedly campaigning for the papacy (posters with his face mysteriously appeared around Rome with the words "Vota Turkson").
Whoever is elected in the coming days (or weeks?), I think just having so many far flung countries represented on this list is a very good sign for the future of the Church. But what about you? Who do you think will be the next pope? Someone on this list or one of the number of other papabili? I’d love to hear who you’re predicting and why, so please leave a comment! (If you can't find the comment button, click on the title of the post and it should appear at the bottom.)

PS If you want to take a more active role in this conclave, you can adopt your very own cardinal! I’m not kidding. This website will assign you a cardinal-elector at random to pray for during conclave. Over 200,000 people have already signed up.

More conclave posts: 

Image sources: 1, all others
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Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Conclave works: all the Rules and Rituals of the Papal Election

Sistine Chapel Conclave
Sistine Chapel ready for Conclave

This historic conclave, the first in nearly 600 years during which the previous pope is still alive, will begin Tuesday, 12 March. If you read my last conclave post (and kudos to you if you did), you are now familiar with the history of conclave and how it evolved over the years. Now you want to know exactly what goes on in that secret, boys-only ritual that decides the most influential man in the Catholic world, the successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ on Earth?

Well, read on, dear bloglings, read on.

For those of you who like superlatives, it should be noted that the Papal Conclave is the longest on-going process of choosing the leader of any institution. I think that is what makes it so exciting. The sense of continuity is one of the things I find so fascinating about Rome in general, and conclave is a part of that. Being present in the square for the Habemus Papam, regardless of your religion or views on the papacy, is a way to participate in that 954-year tradition and be a part of history.

As you already know, only cardinals can elect the pope, although not all of them. Any cardinal over 80 is barred from participating in conclave, and therefore much less likely to be elected. In all practicality it is unthinkable in our time that someone not participating in conclave would be elected. But in fact, the rules make any confirmed Catholic male eligible to be elected pope, but it hasn’t happened since 1378. It’s about as likely as a write-in candidate winning the presidency. Part of the reason for the age limit is so that the new pope will not be excessively old when he takes office.

This time around, there are 115 cardinal-electors participating. That number would have been 117, but 2 voting-age cardinals have requested not to participate: Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaamadja of Jakarta, Indonesia, for health reasons, and—much more scandalous—Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh Scotland, who resigned his position a few weeks ago after accusations (which he later confirmed) arose regarding his inappropriate sexual behavior toward a number of other priests.

Ordinarily, after the death of a pope, a mourning period of 15 days is observed before conclave can begin. Pope Emeritus (aka the Artist Formerly Known as Pope Benedict XVI) made a last-minute change in conclave rules before officially stepping down on 28 February, eliminating that waiting period in his case, since clearly there was no death to mourn.

With the expectation that conclave would begin sometime this coming week, two very important things have been going on in Vatican City this past week. Firstly, as the cardinals arrive from all corners of the globe, they have been participating in General Congregation meetings. These amount to an abbreviated campaign period in which the cardinals can speak about the issues that need to be considered in regard to the choosing of the new pope, and as pertain to the future of the Church. I have been following my friend and AP journalist Patricia Thomas’ posts on her blog Mozzarella Mamma for all the details regarding these meetings. Papal Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi holds daily press conferences for accredited journalists in which important news is imparted, although the cardinals are held to a vow of secrecy for the General Congregation meetings just as for conclave itself. I learned from Trisha that perhaps the most important part of the meetings are the lengthy coffee breaks during which the cardinals have a change to get to know each other better and discuss their ideas face to face. Both cardinal-electors and –non-electors are welcome to participate in these meetings. It was during the 8th General Congregation Friday that the starting date of conclave was voted on.

The other important process taking place all week is, of course, the preparation of the Sistine Chapel. The chapel closed to the public on Tuesday 5 March at 1:15pm. You might be wondering how it could possibly take a week to prepare for an election room. Just set up some tables and call it done! Well, there are—as you might have imagined—many regulations to follow. Nothing about conclave is arbitrary. An Apostolic Constitution regulates every detail of the ritual.

Sistine chapel platform conclave
Sistine Chapel floor platform being prepared for Conclave

Firstly, a platform of wood, supported by metal tubes, is erected and covered with beige carpeting. This serves several purposes. First, it protects the ornate marble floor from damage by the stove. (There is in fact a small orange stain on one of the pale floor tiles that was stained in a previous conclave.) It also creates a level surface, as there are a few steps and ramps in the chapel that would make setting up long tables impossible. Lastly, the raised surface symbolizes the idea that the cardinals must not be tied down with Earthly concerns during the election. 

Conclave stoves Sala Regia
Preparing the Conclave stoves in the Sala Regia. CBS News

Another necessity during conclave is the stove that burns the ballots. In fact, there are two stoves. One burns the ballots after every two voting sessions, and the other is fed with chemicals that produce the tell-tale smoke that will signal to the city of Rome and the world whether that balloting has produced a pope. The emission of black smoke tells us there is no new pope, and white smoke means there is. The smoke of both stoves travels up a copper pipe that exits the chapel through the window in the southeast corner of the chapel. The chimney stack was set up yesterday and the chapel has been swept for bugs and recording devices, although it has not been reported that any were found.

Sistine Chapel conclave stoves
Conclave stoves in the Sistine Chapel 

With the combination of the media coverage and the popularity of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, everyone knows by now that the word conclave comes from the Latin, con clave (with key), called such because since the 13th century, the cardinal-electors have been ceremoniously locked up during the election, to prevent endless indecision and outside interference, and to secure secrecy. To this day the chapel is literally locked and sealed while the cardinals are inside.

Sistine Chapel prepared conclave
Sistine Chapel prepared for conclave

As you may know if you’ve ever visited the Sistine Chapel, it has five doorways. One, is a tourist entrance from the Vatican Museums, two are tourist exits, one leading back into the museums, and one to St. Peter’s. These three doors have already been locked and sealed for the entirely of conclave. (According to Mozzarella Mamma, they were sealed with Scotch tape!)  A fourth door leads to the Sala del Pianto, or the Room of Tears (we’ll get back to that later). And the ceremonial and most important entrance is the set of double doors that leads to the Sala Regia, or Royal Hall, guarded by Swiss Guards (on the other side) at all times, which will be sealed during voting only.

But a question that often comes up is, where to the Cardinals eat and sleep? From what I can discover, there was never a time in which all the cardinal-electors were confined to the Sistine Chapel only for the entire conclave. However, all the way up to the 21st century, they were housed in the Apostolic Palace, both inside the Sistine Chapel and in the Sala Regia. They did not have private rooms, but instead in little temporary cubicles that were furnished with nothing more than a cot and a washbasin, with only one bathroom for every ten electors (or, in earlier times, each cardinal had his own chamber pot). Food was brought in through a small door near the Pauline Chapel, as can be seen on this floor plan showing each cardinal’s allotted space during the conclave of 1550. 

Conclave cell floorplan 1550
Floorplan of Cardinal's cells, Conclave of 1550, Vatican Secret Archives

In Crystal King’s blog post, The Renaissance Papal Conclave: What did they eat?, she reports that pies, whole chickens and the like were banned by 1550 because it was too easy to hide secret messages (probably bribes) inside. For fans of The Borgias, you’ll remember this is exactly what was depicted as happening in the 1492 election. Also, to preserve secrecy, the windows would be closed and shuttered at all times.

Quoted in the book Conclave, by John L. Allen, Jr., Cardinal Siri (who was nearly elected instead of John Paul II) recalls of the conclave of August 1978,

            We were dying of heat, asphyxiation seemed to be getting the upper hand and I noticed that some cardinals were on the verge of collapse. Then I rebelled, … I said, ‘I order you to open the windows.’ Some responded, ‘Eminence, it is not permitted to open the windows.’

Eventually the cardinal got his way and the windows were opened, but it was the last time the electors were forced to sleep in semi-private cells in the Apostolic palace. The Casa Santa Marta is a residence inside the Vatican built specifically to house the cardinals during conclave. It was used for the first time during the conclave of 2005. The rooms are simply furnished and host two cardinals each. Much like in first-year college dorms, the cardinals do not get to pick their roommates.

Santa Marta Cardinal's Room
Typical cardinal's room at Santa Marta's

So now we’ve covered what happens leading up to conclave. But what about during? In this case, following a Mass for the Election of a New Pontiff in St. Peter’s Basilica Tuesday morning, the cardinal-electors will be transferred to the Apostolic Palace where they will gather for prayer in the Pauline Chapel at 3:35pm. At 4:30 they will enter the Sistine Chapel singing Veni Creator Spiritus, a 9th-century hymn that invokes the Holy Spirit. It is believed that the Holy Spirit chooses the new pope through the cardinals. 

Cardinals Sala Regia Conclave Sistine Chapel
Cardinals prepare to enter Sistine Chapel for Conclave, Sala Regia. 17 April 2005
© Arturo Mari/AFP/Getty Images

The cardinal-electors will be administered an oath in which they make vows of secrecy as well as not to communicate with the outside world. (A new, very 21st-century rule has been added that bans the cardinals from communicating by Twitter or any other digital means.) At this point, Piero Marini, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations calls, “Extra omnes!” (everybody else, out!) and anyone not participating in conclave will be kicked out and Marini will close the doors. The cardinals will then be led in a brief meditation by 88-year old Cardinal Prosper Grech, a non-elector chosen during General Congregation, after which both he and Marini will exit to the Sala Regia, the doors will be locked and sealed, and the good stuff will begin. The first balloting will take place around 5pm.

Closing Sistine Chapel doors conclave
Archbishop Piero Marini, 18 April 2005. © Reuters/Osservatore Romano
Sealing Sistine Chapel Conclave
Sealing the Sistine Chapel, Conclave 2005, ABC News

The process of voting is also steeped in ritual. One the first day of voting, only one ballot, or scrutiny, takes place. The cardinals take their seats at long tables along the sides of the chapel and hand write the candidate of their choice on a small card on which are written the words, “Eligo in summum pontificem…” (I elect as supreme Pontiff…). These cards are anonymous and the electors are asked to disguise their handwriting. This was not always the case; until 1945, the cardinal's name would also be on the ballot, folded over so that it would be hidden until the time that the election was concluded. In this way, it would be known, at least for the final scrutiny, who voted for whom. This was necessary because of old rules that prohibited a cardinal casting the deciding vote for himself (in certain cases).

Conclave ballot cards
Papal ballots for the Conclave that elected Pope Pius VI, 1775, Vatican Secret Archives

One by one, the cardinals approach the bench where the Camerlengo (Papal Chamberlain), in this case Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Bertone), and his three assistants, (chosen by lot and called Scrutineers) sit. The cardinal-elector will hold his folded vote card above his head and place it in the Goblet of Fire ceremonial urn, reciting an oath in Latin, vowing that he is voting for the person he thinks should be elected. This is to prevent the electors from casting “courtesy votes” that can prolong elections .

Conclave ballot urns
Conclave ballot urns

Once all the cardinals have voted, the first Scrutineer mixes up the votes, which are then taken out and counted. If the number of votes does not correspond to the number of electors, they are burned without being opened. If the number is correct, they are opened one by one, passed amongst the three Scrutineers and recorded by each of them in three separate ledgers. As the votes are recorded, they are pierced with a needle and thread over the word “Eligo,” and tied together so that none go missing.

Conclave voting ledger register
Conclave voting register, 1775, Vatican Secret Archives

A 2/3 majority is need to elect a pope, although that rarely happens in the first scrutiny. On Wednesday, the scrutiny process will be repeated twice in the morning, sometime between 9:30 and noon, and twice in the afternoon, between 4:30 and 7pm. That is, unless a decision is reached before then. With the exception of the first scrutiny on Tuesday afternoon, ballots are burned after every two scrutinies, unless the pope is elected in the first of the two. This will make it difficult for those of us who want to try to catch sight of some smoke.

During the election of former Pope Benedict XVI, I witnessed only one emission of smoke, on the first day, which was, of course, black. I was very disappointed to miss the white smoke, and especially his first appearance. This year, I will do everything I can to be there, for the Habemus Papam at least, if not the smoke, even if that means leaving work and hopping in a taxi the moment I hear word. I have been assured that from the time the smoke emerges from the chimney to the time the new pope appears, about 30-45 minutes will pass. Fingers crossed! I only pray he that the new pope, whoever he may be, will not be elected on Thursday evening, as I have tickets to the opera!

If a pope has not been elected by the end of Thursday, Friday the cardinal-electors will take a day off to pray, and voting will resume Saturday. In a new rule Benedict XVI issued in 2007, after 33 scrutinies, or 10 days of balloting, another day of prayer is taken, and a run-off vote between the top 2 candidates takes place. It’s unlikely that this will happen, if the trend of very short conclaves of the past half-century continues. All but one conclave since 1939 has taken 2 days or fewer.

So the Scrutinies are finished and a pope has been chosen! It’s time for the big moment! As soon as one of the cardinals receives the minimum 2/3 majority, the cardinals will burst into applause. The Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations Marini and the Dean of the College of Cardinals, 85-year-old Angelo Sodano, will be invited back into the chapel, at which time Sodano will approach the newly elected pope and ask, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme Pontiff?” You’d probably think, what cardinal would turn down such a position? (Even though the resignation of Benedict XVI has proven that it's not every cardinal's dream to become pope). Cardinal (and later Saint) Carlo Borromeo turned the papacy down in the 16th century.  But if the answer is yes, as soon as the elected cardinal says “Accepto,” he is officially the pope. He will then choose his papal name, often to show his respect and admiration for a previous pope, and each cardinal will take turns kneeling before him to show their homage and obedience. The white smoke is sent up and Rome knows she has a new pope.

White Smoke Sistine Chapel Conclave
White Smoke from Sistine Chapel Chimney, Conclave 2005

The new pope will then retire into the small Sala del Pianto through a door to the left of the high altar, which I had the opportunity to visit briefly in 2009. 

Sala Pianto Room Tears Vatican
Sala del Pianto, Vatican

There three sets of papal vestments will be laid out, in sizes small, medium, and large. An anecdote has it that upon the election of Pope Jon XXIII, even the largest size was too small and a tailor had to be summoned to adjust it to fit the portly new pontiff. The “Room of Tears” is so called because the newly-elected pope is often overcome with emotion once he is alone, breaking down to cry.

Sala Pianto Room Tears Papal Vestments
Sala del Pianto with Three Sizes of Papal Vestments

After he is dressed, the new pope will walk back through the Sistine Chapel, through the Sala Regia and out onto the Benediction Loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Habemus Papam Nanni Moretti
Freeze Frame from Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti

He will be proceeded by the senior Cardinal-Deacon, Jean-Louis Tauran of France, who will proclaim those famous words,

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum (I announce to you a great joy):
Habemus Papam! (We have a pope!)
Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum (The most eminent and most reverend Lord),
Dominum … Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem …
(Lord [First Name] Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [Last Name]),
Qui sibi nomen imposuit …
Who takes for himself the name of [Papal Name].

Habemus Papam Benedict XVI
First Papal appearance of Benedict XVI, 18 April 2005. Sydney Morning Herald

Then to the roars of the crowd, the man himself will appear and give his first Urbi et Orbi (To the city [of Rome] and to the world) Apostolic Benediction. Hereafter, he will only give this important (read: indulgence-granting) blessing on Easter and Christmas. Despite living in Rome for over eight years, through many Easters and Christmases and one papal election (so far), I have never been present for this speech. Here’s hoping I make it this time!

All of this will be happening in the coming week, so it’s a very exciting time to be in Rome. I will be posting a few more times leading up to the election Tuesday afternoon, with a list of the papabili (pope-ables) and a few ominous papal predictions that might give some insight into who the mystery man might be. So be sure to stop by often, or follow me on Twitter (@ThePinesOfRome) where I will be on #SmokeWatch from Tuesday evening until the big announcement!

Images sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 ,14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Click here for more images from past conclaves.
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Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Short* History of Conclave

Cardinal Sistine Chapel conclave
Archbishop Piero Marini, 18 April 2005. © Reuters/Osservatore Romano

*Disclaimer: Despite the title, this post is not short.

This Tuesday afternoon (5 March 2012), around 1:15, the Sistine Chapel closed its doors to the public in preparation for conclave, which, although it has not been officially announced, is expected to begin early next week. (Side note: how cool would it be if the new pope were elected on the Ides of March? I'm mean, we've had enough omens since the Artist Formerly Known as Pope Benedict XVI announced his impending resignation, what's one more?)

But before conclave begins, before I go into what exactly it entails, and who the biggest contenders are, I'd like to delve into the history of this sacred ritual. I have always been fascinated with conclave. It's such a mysterious and secretive rite, dating back so many centuries, it makes the history-lover in me tingle with glee. Plus, it takes place in the Sistine Chapel. It is an understatement so say I have spent a lot of time in the Sistine Chapel. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that I have been inside its sacred and gloriously frescoed walls at least 500 times (not nearly as many as the maritino though, I must reluctantly admit).

Sistine Chapel exterior Vatican
Sistine Chapel

Everyone knows that popes are elected inside that spectacular chapel in the Vatican, but exactly how long has that tradition been around? The chapel itself was built only in the late 15th century, and we've had Popes in Rome the time of St. Peter. Where was conclave held before 1481, when the structure of the chapel was completed? And once conclave moved to the chapel, was it always held there? The answers will probably surprise you.

Although the title of this post contains the word "short," I have a feeling it is going to be something a challenge to adhere to it, what with nearly 2000 years of history to cover. To avoid going into the history of the papacy itself (although that would be a fun--for me, probably not you--and challenging undertaking and I hope to attempt it soon), I will brush over the first millennium entirely, because during that time, papal elections did not exist. The pope was chosen by various means, sometimes entirely secular, such as by appointment of the Holy Roman Emperor. It wasn't until 1059, when Pope Nicholas II issued the papal bull In nomine Domini, that an election by cardinals was established.

The very first pope to be chosen by a college of cardinal-electors was Nicholas II's successor, Pope Alexander II. The election took place in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in 1061. But although it was an election, and although a pope was made, it was not, technically, a conclave. The word conclave, as many of you are surely aware, comes from the Latin cum clave, "with key." In fact, the first true conclave wouldn't take place for another two hundred years.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, papal elections were held in a slew of different locations, including over half a dozen churches in Rome, from St John's in Lateran to the old St. Peter's, a Benedictine monastery on the Palatine Hill, the Septizodium (before it was practically raised to the ground by Sixtus V), an Abbey in France, and the cities of Terracina, Naples, Verona, Pisa, Perugia, Ferrara, and of course, Viterbo. It was the general practice to elect the new pope wherever the previous pope had died.

Palazzo dei Papi Palace of Popes Viterbo
Palazzo dei Papi, Viterbo

Some of these elections were less than efficient. The election of 1261 dragged on nearly three months, that of 1264 for five, but by far the biggest debacle in papal election history (perhaps even worse that last week's catastrophic Italian parliamentary election), occurred upon the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268. The election began in November of that year in the Palace of the Popes in Viterbo, where the official seat of the papacy had moved during that time of instability in Rome. When, for political reasons, the cardinals were incapable of reaching an agreement, the election process dragged on for nearly three years. Two years in, the magistrates of Viterbo had locked the cardinals up in the palace, and put them on a ration of bread and water, in the hopes that it would hasten a decision. When even that didn't work, the roof of the hall in which they were convened was removed, supposedly in order to facilitate the Holy Spirit to descend upon the hapless cardinals.

Longest Conclave History Viterbo
The Longest Conclave in History

At long last, in September of 1271, Pope Gregory X was elected and the longest papal election (and technically, the first conclave) was at an end. Little wonder, after that fiasco, that the newly minted pope issued a papal bull, Ubi periculum, in 1274 that established new rules regarding the election, such as the sequestering of the cardinals and menu restrictions after a set number of days. Many of these rules are still in use today. 

Pope Gregory X Viterbo Palazzo dei Papi
Portrait of Gregory X, Sala del Conclave, Palazzo dei Papi, Viterbo.

Gregory's new conclave rules worked, and the next election in 1276 was wrapped up in an astonishing two days. Unfortunately the sensible rules were chucked out later that same year, and soon the old problems cropped up again, as you'll remember in the case of our friend Pope Celestine V. If one good thing did come out of the old hermit's papacy, it was the reinstatement of the conclave rules of Ubi periculum in 1294.

Still, just 15 years later, as a result of the conflict between the papacy and the French king, the seat of the papacy was moved to Avignon, France, and the following seven conclaves took place at the Palace of the Popes in that lovely Provencal city, each one producing a French pontiff. When the papacy was at last restored to Rome in 1376, and a conclave for the next pope occurred two years later, Roman citizens rioted, so strong was their fear that another Frenchman would ascend the throne of St. Peter and the court would be moved back to France. It's important to point out that the papal court was vital to the economy of Rome, for it brought pilgrims to the city, good for business for innkeepers, rosary-makers, tour guides, and sellers of all kinds of souvenirs (not much has changed there). Also, the presence of wealthy prelates and cardinals guaranteed work for the city's tailors, artists, skilled craftsmen like cabinet-makers and weavers, and, of course, prostitutes.

Palace Popes Palais Papes Avignon
Palais du Papes, Avignon

In the end, under the pressure of the Roman populace, an Italian, Urban VI Prignano, was elected, the last time a non-cardinal became pope. Despite Urban’s Italian blood, he had such strong French sympathies that many of the cardinals who had elected him, regretting their decision, formed their own faction and elected an anti-pope. Thus began the great Western Schism that would divide the church for almost 40 years. Although the backstabbing and betrayal going on in the Vatican today, even as I write this, does not bode well for the future of the Catholic church, if it could survive the Western Schism (which eventually produced a second anti-pope in Pisa–so three popes in total were vying for power), it can survive anything.

All this chaos finally came to an end between 1415-17 during which time two anti-popes were deposed, the legitimate Pope Gregory XII was pressured to resign (some claim he, not Celestine V, was the last pope to resign before Benedict XVI, but considering the circumstances, I find it pointless to compare the two events), and Martin V Colonna was named pope in the Council of Constance. Every so often, anti-popes popped up, but none were taken too seriously. Martin V’s papacy not only marked the end of the Western Schism, but also the dawn of the Renaissance in Rome.

Habemus Papam Election Pope Martin V
Habemus Papam, Election of Pope Martin V

Not until 1455 did it become the norm to hold conclave in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, beginning with the election of the first Borgia pope, Callisto III. Coincidentally, it is Callisto’s nephew, our favorite papal bad boy Alexander VI, who holds the honor of being the first pope to be elected in the Sistine Chapel, in 1492.

Borgias Conclave Cardinal della Rovere
Freeze frame from Showtime's The Borgias
I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that Alexander VI's election was one of the most infamous in history. If you've watched The Borgias, you've seen this portrayed, although getting history from a television drama might not be the most accurate route. Here's what Nigel Cawthorne, in his book Sex Lives of the Popes, has to say about it:

...Rodrigo used the promise of rich preferments and out-and-out bribery to win the election. Some cardinals wanted palaces; others castles, land, or money. Cardinal Orsini sold his vote for the castles of Monticelli and Sariani. Cardinal Ascanio Sforza wanted four mule-loads of silver and the lucrative chancellorship of the Church to secure his vote. Cardinal Colonna got the wealthy Abbey of St. Benedict... The Cardinal of St. Angelo wanted the bishopric of Porto... Cardinal Savelli was given the Civita Castellana. ... The clinching vote belonged to a Venetian monk. All he wanted was 5,000 crowns and a night with Rodrigo's daughter, the lovely twelve-year-old Lucrezia.

That is all pretty damning, although I will say this highly entertaining work of  "non-fiction" has no references of any kind, so take it with a grain of salt.

Sex Lives Popes Nigel Cawthorne

One would imagine that the Sistine Chapel, so connected in modern consciousness with conclave, remained the de facto location for papal elections from that year forward, but in fact, during the following four centuries, only a handful of conclaves are recorded to have taken place there.

In the 1540s, Michelangelo, whose work in the Sistine Chapel was already considered a masterpiece, was hired to fresco the walls of the Pauline Chapel, just a few steps away. This smaller and more intimate chapel, built for the by-then dead Pope Paul III Farnese, was considered more appropriate for the solemn task of electing the pastor of the Catholic church. Michelangelo’s most famous work in that chapel (unfortunately closed to the public) is the Crucifixion of St. Peter. The martyr lies against the cross, upside down as he is about to be crucified. With visual effort, he lifts his head up and cranes his neck to look down at the viewer. During a conclave, Peter could gaze into the eyes of each of the cardinal-electors, reminding them of their sacred duty: to elect the man who will fill his shoes and represent Christ on Earth. Still, only two conclaves have ever been held in the Pauline Chapel: that of 1549-50 that elected Julius III, and that of 1559 that elected Pius IV. 

Crucifixion St. Peter Michelangelo Cappella Paolina Pauline Chapel
Crucifixion of St. Peter, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pauline Chapel, Apostolic Palace, Vatican

Apparently Peter’s stern gaze failed to elicit the appropriate gravitas for the situation at hand, at least in the case of Julius III’s election. This conclave became notorious for rampant bribery, the influence of the Holy Roman Emperor, and cardinals passing inside information to bankers who would then make bets on the election’s outcome. It was Pius IV, moving into the thick of the Counter Reformation, who finally re-established the conclave rules long abandoned by his predecessors, regarding seclusion, secrecy, and brevity.

Papal elections continued in various areas of the Apostolic Palace (sometimes the Sistine Chapel) without much incident (with the exception of the conclave of 1799-1800, which took place in Venice due to the threat of Napoleon) until 1823, when it was moved to the Quirinal Palace, the official residence of the popes during the 19th century. It took place in a chapel that, while in terms of artistic decoration is very different from the Sistine Chapel, is of the exact same dimensions. The Pauline Chapel in the Quirinale, not to be confused with Paul III’s Pauline Chapel in the Vatican, was commissioned by Pope Paul V Borghese, and its measurements are the same as the ancient temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, as laid out in the Old Testament (also the model for the Sistine Chapel).

Cappella Paolina Quirinale Pauline Chapel
Cappella Paolina, Palazzo Quirinale, Roma

After Rome was captured from the Papal States by the nine-year-old Kingdom of Italy in 1870,  during the papacy of Pius IX, the Quirinal Palace became the residence of the king, and conclave once again returned to the Sistine Chapel. Pope Leo XIII was elected there in 1878, as has every pope since. The election of Pope Pius X in 1903, was the last conclave that was openly influenced by a political leader outside the church. The favorite for pope, Leo XIII's former Secretary of State Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, was vetoed by the Prince-Bishop of Krakow in the name Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria, possibly because of Rampolla's support for the French Third Republic. This was considered scandalous by the cardinals present, but as the King of France, the King of Spain and the Emperor of Austria all had veto power by law, there was nothing they could do.

Saint Pope Pius X Sarto
Pope Pius X Sarto

When eventually elected, Pius X (later to become a saint) took the opportunity to eliminate the power of veto of the heads of state. He went even further to warn that anyone attempting to introduce a veto into conclave would be immediately excommunicated. Since then, as part of the solemn vow  at the beginning of a conclave, all cardinal-electors must swear not to introduce a veto on behalf of a secular monarch. Pius X was the last pope to make major reforms of conclave, consolidating almost all of the previous rules set up by various popes throughout the centuries.

If you made it through this whole post (without falling asleep) I am seriously impressed. There were enough names and dates to make even the most avid history nerd's eyes glaze over. As you well know by now, if it didn't happen at least 100 years ago, I probably haven't heard about it yet. I humbly decline the post of up-to-the-minute correspondent during this exciting papal resignation/conclave period. Head to Patricia Thomas' delightful and informative blog, Mozzarella Mamma for all the breaking Vatican news. She's covering the conclave for the Associated Press, and attends press conferences with the Papal Spokesman, Father Lombardi, every day. If she isn't well informed, no one is. 

However, I will be on smoke watch from the moment conclave begins until those glorious words "Habemus Papam" ring out. Follow me on twitter (@ThePinesOfRome) where I will announce the very minute that white smoke billows so you can high-tail it to St. Peter's or, if you're a bit further away, switch on the telly. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, detailing the rituals and rules of conclave. 

I don't know about you, but after that, I need a cup of tea.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 by author, 6, 7, 8, 9 by author, 10, 11, 12
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