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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Vatican Politics: Papabili

Posted by Bob Brigham

The Papal election really should be brought into the open. The dymanics of campaigning for Pope are more complicated than almost any election. Reuters has profiles of potential candidates to be the next Pope, including:


Cardinals and archbishops, all with extensive resumes. Who knows what will go on behind the closed doors, but I have a feeling it will feel like Chinatown.

The Conclave:

The Cardinals must take an oath when they first enter the Conclave that they will follow the rules set down by the Pope and that they will maintain absolute secrecy about the voting and deliberations. The penalty for disclosing anything about the conclave that must be kept secret is automatic excommunication.

The Cardinals all take seats around the wall of the Sistine Chapel and take a ballot paper on which is written "Eligo in summum pontificem" -- "I elect as supreme Pontiff...". They then write a name on it, fold it, and then proceed one by one to approach the altar, where a chalice stands with a paten on it. They hold up their ballot high to show that they have voted, then place it on the paten, and then slide it into the chalice. The votes are then counted by the Cardinal Camerlengo and his three assistants. Each assistant reads the name, reads the name aloud, writes it down on a tally sheet and then passes it to the next assistant. The third assistant runs a needle and thread through the centre of each ballot to join them all together. The ballots are then burned, as well as all notes made. If a new Pope has been elected, the papers are burned with chemicals (it used to be wet straw) to give white smoke. Otherwise, they give off black smoke, so that the waiting crowds, and the world, know whether their new Holy Father will soon emerge from the Sistine Chapel.

Until the conclaves of 1978, each Cardinal was provided a throne, a table and a canopy (or baldachino) over their heads. Paul VI abolished the practice because, with the internationalization of the College of Cardinals, there was simply no room any more. Whereas there were only 80 electors before then, the number had risen to 120. The thrones used to be arranged in two rows, along the wall facing each other. The canopies and thrones symbolized that, during the sede vacante when there is no Pope, the Cardinals all share responsibility for the governance of the Church. To further this symbolism, once the new Pope was elected and announced the name he would use, the Cardinals would pull on a cord and the canopy would collapse.

To be elected Pope, one Cardinal must receive more than two-thirds of the votes. Except that, under the new rules established by Pope John Paul II, if 30 ballots have taken place without any Cardinal being elected Pope, then the Cardinals may then elect by simple majority. This is an important change and may well be the most important change made. In the past, it has often been the case that a particular candidate has had solid majority support but cannot garner the required two-thirds majority, eg, because he is too conservative to satisfy the more moderate Cardinals. Therefore a compromise candidate is chosen, either an old Pope who will die soon and not do much until the next conclave (which is what was intended with John XXIII!) or someone not so hard-line wins support. The difference now will be that if, in the early ballots, one candidate has strong majority support, there is less incentive for that majority to compromise with the cardinals who are against their candidate and they simply need to sit out 30 ballots to elect their man. This may well see much more "hard-line" Popes being elected, and given the conservative trend of most appointments to the College by Pope John Paul II, it is almost certainly going to be a man cut from the same cloth. There will also be far less incentive for the Cardinals to finish quickly as in the past. After such a long papacy, they may need time to arrive at a strong consensus on what type of papacy the Church now needs. They will also be staying in comfortable lodgings, rather than sleeping in foldaway cots in hallways and offices in the Sistine Chapel.

The cardinals vote on the afternoon of the first day, then twice each morning and once each afternoon. If they have not elected someone within the first nine votes, then they may devote up to a day to prayer and discussion before resuming. They may do the same every seven unsuccessful votes after that.

The Cardinals are not permitted any contact with the outside world: no mobile phones, no newspapers or television, no messages or letters or signals to observers. There will be regular sweeps of all relevant areas for listening devices. The Cardinals will for the first time be visible, at least twice daily, to the observing world, when they move the 350 metres from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Sistine Chapel and back again. No doubt, Vatican "experts" will be hired to expound at length on what the countenance of certain key Cardinals indicates as they are filmed moving to and from the Chapel!

From Wikipedia on modern practice:

In 1996, John Paul II promulgated a new apostolic constitution, called Universi Dominici Gregis (Shepherd of the Lord's Whole Flock), which, unless superseded by later regulations, now governs the election of the Pope's successor. The procedures outlined, however, in many cases date to much earlier times. Universi Dominici Gregis is the sole constitution governing the election; it abrogates all constitutions previously issued by Popes. Under Universi Dominici Gregis, the cardinals are to be lodged in a purpose-built edifice, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, but are to continue to vote in the Sistine Chapel.

Several duties are performed by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, who is always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Dean is not entitled to participate in the conclave due to age, his place is taken by the Sub-Dean, who is also always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Sub-Dean also cannot participate, the senior Cardinal Bishop participating performs the functions.

Since the College of Cardinals is a small body, some have suggested that the electorate should be expanded. Proposed reforms include a plan to replace the College of Cardinals as the electoral body with the Synod of Bishops, which includes many more members. Under present procedure, however, the Synod may only meet while called by the Pope. Universi Dominici Gregis explicitly provides that even if a Synod or ecumenical council is in session at the time of a Pope's death, it may not perform the election. Upon the Pope's death, either body's proceedings are suspended, to be resumed only upon the order of the new Pope.

It is considered poor form to campaign for the position of Pope. However, there is inevitably always much speculation about which Cardinals have serious prospects of being elected. Speculation tends to mount when a Pope is ill or aged and shortlists of potential candidates make appearances in the media. A Cardinal who is considered to be a prospect for the papacy are referred to informally as being papabile (plural: papabili), the term being coined by "Vaticanologists" in the mid twentieth century. [...]

Beginning of the election

On the morning of the day ascertained by the Congregations of Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble in St Peter's Basilica to celebrate the Eucharist. Then, they assemble in the afternoon in the Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican, proceeding to the Sistine Chapel while singing the Veni Creator. The Cardinals then take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitutions; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting. The Cardinal Dean reads the oath aloud in full; in order of precedence the other cardinal electors merely state, while touching the Gospels, that they "do so promise, pledge and swear."

After all the cardinals present have taken the oath, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations orders all individuals other than the cardinals and conclave participants to leave the Chapel. The Master himself may remain, as may one ecclesiastic designated by the Congregations prior to the commencement of the election. The ecclesiastic makes a speech concerning the problems facing the Church and on the qualities the new Pope needs to have. After the speech concludes, the ecclesiastic leaves. Following the recitation of prayers, the Cardinal Dean asks if any doubts relating to procedure remain. After the clarification of the doubts, the election may commence. Cardinals who arrive after the conclave has begun are admitted nevertheless. An ill cardinal may leave the conclave and later be readmitted; a cardinal who leaves for any reason other than illness may not return to the conclave.

Each cardinal elector may be accompanied by two attendants or conclavists (three if the cardinal elector is ill). The Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, two Masters of Ceremonies, two officers of the Papal Sacristy and an ecclesiastic assisting the Dean of the College of Cardinals are also admitted to the conclave. Priests are available to hear the confession in different languages; two doctors are also admitted. Finally, a severely limited number of servant staff are permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals3. Secrecy is maintained during the conclave; the cardinals as well as the conclavists and staff are not permitted to disclose any information relating to the election. Cardinal electors may not correspond or converse with anyone outside the conclave, by post, radio, telephone or otherwise. Universi Dominici Gregis specifically prohibits media such as newspapers, the radio, and television.


On the afternoon of the first day, only one ballot is held. If no-one is elected on the first ballot, four ballots are held on each successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. If no result is obtained within three days, the process is suspended for one day for prayer and an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon. After seven further ballots, the process may again be similarly suspended, with the address now being delivered by the senior Cardinal Priest. If, after another seven ballots, no result is achieved, voting is suspended once more, the address being delivered by the senior Cardinal Bishop. After a further seven ballots, the cardinal electors may reduce the two-thirds majority requirement to a simple majority requirement. The cardinals may also eliminate all candidates except the two who have received the greatest number of votes in the previous ballot; in this case as well, a simple majority suffices for an election.

The process of voting comprises three phases: the "pre-scrutiny," the "scrutiny," and the "post-scrutiny." During the pre-scrutiny, the Masters of the Ceremonies prepare ballot papers bearing the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem ("I elect as Supreme Pontiff") and provide at least two to each cardinal elector. As the cardinals begin to write down their votes, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and the Masters of Ceremonies exit; the junior Cardinal Deacon then closes the door. The junior Cardinal Deacon then draws by lot nine names; the first three become Scrutineers, the second three Infirmarii and the last three Revisers. New Scrutineers, Infirmarii and Revisers are not selected again after the first ballot.

Then the scrutiny phase of the election commences. The cardinal electors proceed, in order of precedence, to take their completed ballots (which bear only the name of the individual voted for) to the altar, where the Scrutineers stand. Before casting the ballot, each cardinal elector takes a Latin oath, which translates to: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected." If any cardinal elector is in the Chapel, but cannot proceed to the altar due to infirmity, the last Scrutineer may go to him and take his ballot after the oath is recited. If any cardinal elector is by reason of infirmity confined to his or her room, the Infirmarii go to their rooms with ballot papers and a box. When the Infirmarii return to the Chapel, the ballots are counted to ensure that their number matches with the number of ill cardinals; thereafter, they are deposited in the appropriate receptacle. The oath is taken by all cardinals only at the first vote.

Once all votes have been cast, the first Scrutineer chosen shakes the container, and the last Scrutineer removes and counts the ballots. If the number of ballots does not correspond to the number of cardinal electors present, the ballots are burnt, and the vote is repeated. If, however, no irregularities are observed, the ballots may be opened and the votes counted. Each ballot is unfolded by the first Scrutineer; all three Scrutineers separately write down the name indicated on the ballot. The last of the Scrutineers reads the name aloud.

Once all of the ballots have been opened, the final post-scrutiny phase begins. The Scrutineers add up all of the votes, and the Revisers check the ballots and the names on the Scrutineers' lists to ensure that no error was made. The ballots are then all burnt by the Scrutineers with the assistance of the Secretary of the College and the Masters of Ceremonies. If the first election held in any given morning or afternoon does not result in an election, the cardinals proceed to the next vote immediately; the papers from both ballots are burnt together at the end of the second vote. The colour of the smoke signals the results to the people assembled in St Peter's Square. Dark smoke signals that the ballot did not result in an election, while white smoke signals that a new Pope was chosen. Originally, damp straw was added to the fire to create dark smoke; now chemicals are used.

Now here is some good stuff, who can win. From about.com:

Technically, any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope — there is no other requirement for election (although there are several requirements before a person can actually assume the papacy once elected). It might even be technically possible for them to elect a non-Catholic male, if they had reason to believe that he would immediately convert to Catholicism.

The lack of a long list of formal requirements is probably due to the fact that, in times past, it was possible for the elector cardinals to elect a new pope not through formal ballots but rather through sudden acclamation after being inspired.

However, that would involve a great deal of paper work:

If for some reason a lay person were elected, the Dean of the College of Cardinals would first have to ordain him to the appropriate clerical offices, from priest through bishop, before he could take over the post of Bishop of Rome that is required of all popes. If he is already a bishop somewhere, it is tradition that he set aside that post.

So I'm going to keep my eye on the papabili. A dark horse could emerge, but the odds are far greater that it will be a cardinal or archbishop than a bishop.

In fact, I'd be worried if it were a bishop. While such a scenario could spring forth from a deadlock, it would be far more likely that it would occur if there was a consensus to choose a young candidate to extend and further institutionalize the reign of Pope John Paul II.

Posted at 02:03 AM in International | Technorati