Conclave: the secretive end to unannounced campaigns

VATICAN CITY Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:11am EDT

Workers put up a red curtain on the central balcony, called the Loggia of the Blessings, of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March11, 2013. Roman Catholic Cardinals will begin their conclave inside the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect a new pope. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Workers put up a red curtain on the central balcony, called the Loggia of the Blessings, of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March11, 2013. Roman Catholic Cardinals will begin their conclave inside the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect a new pope.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The conclave to pick a Roman Catholic pope is the dramatic final stage of a secretive election process that quietly began weeks, months or even years ago.

Some of the 115 cardinals who file into the Sistine Chapel for the election on Tuesday have been "papabile" - a possible pope - for years. Other names have surfaced only since Pope Benedict announced on February 11 that he would resign.

All of them, whether they seek the job or are put forward less willingly, will be subject to the same unpredictable dynamics that make conclaves among the most mysterious elections in the world.

Archbishop Piero Marini, master of ceremonies for the 2005 conclave, dated the start of pre-election canvassing this time round to February 28, when he saw cardinals chatting in small groups after bidding farewell to Pope Benedict in the Vatican.

"That's when the preparation for the new pope began," he told journalists while explaining the conclave rituals last week.

Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli said one of the main candidates, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, had prepared for years. He cited Oasis, a Christian-Muslim dialogue network Scola launched in 2004, as a platform that has boosted his chances.

"Scola is very smart and he has built his campaign for this conclave very carefully," he said. "Now he is much better known internationally than the other Italians."

Oasis, a Venice-based foundation respected for its work with the Muslim world, is much more than just a campaign vehicle, and has surely helped Scola burnish his international credentials.


All cardinals would deny campaigning for an election they believe is guided by the Holy Spirit. Stumping for votes is the best way to turn other electors against a candidate.

Instead, an ambitious cardinal takes part in Vatican synods to mingle with other prelates, visits colleagues regularly and delivers lectures that show off his wisdom and language skills. Publishing regularly is also advisable.

Once a pope has died or retired, "grand electors" emerge to discreetly promote candidates at pre-conclave meetings called general congregations where the cardinals gather to discuss the Church's future and search for the man who could lead it.

Usually cardinals not running themselves work as "kingmakers" to line up votes in informal talks on the sidelines of those meetings, during dinners in their favorite restaurants around Rome and in the breaks between conclave voting sessions.

When cardinals met for their second conclave of 1978 after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, Vienna's Franz Koenig rallied the German-speaking cardinals, and Polish-American John Krol the U.S. prelates, to support Krakow's Karol Wojtyla, who went on to become Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had support from Curia cardinals in 2005 and boosted his chances by ably leading the general congregation debates and denouncing "the dictatorship of relativism" in a Mass sermon just before the conclave began.


In the Sistine Chapel itself, cardinals pray, vote and wait for election results. No consultation is allowed in the Chapel but they can discuss options over meals in the residence behind St Peter's Basilica where they stay during the conclave.

The first round of voting, on the afternoon they enter the conclave, is like a primary ballot where votes are scattered across a wide range of candidates. Some are courtesy votes, cast to flatter a friend before serious voting starts the next day.

Cardinals are sworn to secrecy, but a report in the Italian magazine Limes after the 2005 conclave said Ratzinger got a solid 47 votes in the first round, Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires got 10 and the rest were scattered among other names.

Votes began to switch in the second voting round the next morning, pushing Ratzinger's count to 65 and Bergoglio's to 35. Limes said the Argentinian was backed by several moderate German, U.S. and Latin American cardinals.

The third round just before lunch went 72 for Ratzinger and 40 for Bergoglio, according to Limes, and the German cardinal clinched it on the fourth round that afternoon with 84 votes.

Bergoglio's tally sank in the fourth round to 26, indicating some supporters had jumped on the Ratzinger bandwagon. "Some apparently concluded this was the way the Holy Spirit was moving the election," one cardinal said after the vote.

Among the many Roman sayings about popes is one that goes: "He who enters a conclave as a pope comes out as a cardinal." That has not always proven true, however.

In 1939, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli entered the conclave the odds-on favorite. He fell one vote short of election on the second ballot and won it on the third to become Pope Pius XII.

(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Comments (3)
Tiree wrote:
I don’t see any problem in any cardinal building up relationships with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, other Christian denominations, or any others for that matter. I’m sure many millions of Catholics don’t see a problem with it either.

The more dialogue and understanding between peoples the better for everyone. The amount of ignorance and misunderstanding between religions continues to cause hatred, violence and murder in many countries.

It’s not the religions that are problematic; rather it’s the murderous teaching of the radical clerics that is the problem. They have no love for a God of Love, only a bitter hatred and intolerance of all others.
Nor do you need to have a religion to breed hatred.

Religion is not the problem. It’s the people that hide under the guise of religion that are the problem.

I think the cardinal has more sense than that he is building up points towards the papacy.

Mar 11, 2013 1:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:
“the dictatorship of relativism”

That’s a nonsense statement. How can something than can’t proclaim itself preeminent be used to claim it or something else is preeminent?

What probably worries all the major religions – the strict traditionalists among them – is the fact that they are used to thinking they were the only show in town. It’s so much more comfortable that way. They don’t have to question the value of the ideas and practices they like to claim, out of ignorance, are unique to them.

What is very hard to share between religions are traditional principals and practice. Tradition gave rise to culture people love.. We make our religions and our religions make us. And then we don’t think anyone else knows what he or she is talking about and, in fact, they can be seen as evils.

When you really get to know something .if you love it, it isn’t long before one wants to get below the underwear, so to speak.

As I recall from my church days – one was supposed to love God and love man like he was oneself. And it wasn’t qualified to claim that one must only love “good Christians”.

In the minds of traditionalists, that threatens the hardware and software of “the faith”. Many Christians and non Christians have to wonder about a founder who didn’t own much of anything, advised his flock to adopt poverty as their guide and who didn’t put a stick or stone into place after he started to preach? He left office stripped, nailed down, (he was wondering around too much anyway?) and not feeling very well. I know the rests of the creed, but just knowing there are others on this planet, demands one step back and not cling to that identity to fiercely.

That leaves the Cardinals with a funny, almost hypocritical, dance to perform and to try to pick the least obnoxious of very obnoxious hardliners and insiders who cannot have possibly got where they were without knowing the ropes of life very well and understanding the demands of all those sticks and stones. They also have “spiritual” sticks and stones to consider: like dogma, liturgy and social policy that all rest on the veracity and integrity of their performance. They must provide the convincing performance that the sticks and stones issues are worth the cost, the scandals and the embarrassments. Martin Luther founded a split that was less than awed by the majesty and corruption of Rome. How can one miss it? When you go to Rome you see a modern day incarnation of the great “beast” that also learned something in 2000 years.

If it couldn’t – what hope does anyone have of believing they learned a damned thing in their own short life span. I think it’s one of the better beasts alive today.

Why doesn’t the College of Cardinals adopt a more modern business like approach to the college and return to the idea that they were the administrators of the Church properties and took on the role of the defunct Roman Senate. As I understand it, that’s why they wear red. Senators wore red.

They don’t pick people out of nowhere. Until the election of John Paul II, they hardly ever picked non-Italians. That means the hierarchy of Italian Churches knew who was hot – who was not, all along. And they knew them on a first name basis.

There is just as much politics in the church as anywhere else. It all under the vow of obedience like a quasi military society although it is unarmed. What I don’t understand about the report on Vatileaks they asked to be briefed on – why didn’t they all receive copies of the report when it was published? If there is a problem with the accountability of the College of Cardinals it is because traditionally, some of those men could be very wealthy. I suppose it isn’t as likely today?

The college has as many of the Popes men as he could swing. He protects his traditional point of view. I can’t even remember what the traditional point of view is anymore? I think the Holy Spirit moves what it likes, when it likes.

Does the “Holy Spirit” have to be branded? When two or more are gathered I his name they can claim the holy spirit or is it acceptable before God to know the general idea and it’s contours and requirements and compare that spirit to other rival religious traditions? I don’t want to join a club that will expect me to make enemies of all the others. And I get very nervous when someone demands to know “how much do you love me” and worse, and tell me exactly what I want to hear”. I think that’s being to aggressive and a potential evil. But if someone were to follow Christ literally: if someone wanted to enslave you, you were to go willingly. I don’t think Jesus was a glory hog. If the hardware and the physical wealth can only be preserved by recourse to alienation, then the world should turn or allow churches to become museums and the future will see them as frozen poems in stone and make up their own prayers and liturgies. They will provide the social welfare functions some other way. The future will edit and make religions as it sees fit for its most pressing needs. It can easily define love and will edit the traditions as they always have, to make it more visible. I’m something of a believer after all.

Every religious man thinks his particular religious poems and practices buy him access to God. I think it just keeps them thinking about it. And thinking is a just God’s highest recreation.

I think the religious denominations can make a living providing a living for their members. But if they can, so can any other system. It’s a pity they lost so much to the sex scandals because they could be much stronger social welfare support for everyone. The early official Christian church was a social welfare institution and legality got it state funding for the social welfare functions the old roman system provided. Constantine knew that the social organization of the empire depended on them. The Romans liked to make people bleed before they gave them anything official or valuable. Ancient people seemed to have to kill and cook something first before they really felt comfortable with it.

Mar 11, 2013 8:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tiree wrote:
There is a spiritual dimension to every religion just as there is a spiritual dimension to every human being. It is to strive to better oneself and rise above our basic animal instincts. Jesus taught this in a very direct and forthright manner. ’It is the spirit that matters, the flesh is useless.’ He meant that we are created for a purpose; a much higher purpose than self-centered selfishness.

He claimed that the first and most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. And the second is like it, to love our neighbors as ourselves. He went on to say these two commandments sum up the whole of the Law and the Prophets.
If the world, including the Roman Curia, read and lived by his teachings, the world would be a better and much happier place.

Mar 11, 2013 9:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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