22 April 2005

How the church was won

Universi Domenici Gregis
75. If the balloting does not result in an election, even after the provisions of No. 74 have been fulfilled, the Cardinal electors shall be invited by the Camerlengo to express an opinion about the manner of proceeding. The election will then proceed in accordance with what the absolute majority of the electors decides.

Nevertheless, there can be no waiving of the requirement that a valid election takes place only by an absolute majority of the votes or else by voting only on the two names which in the ballot immediately preceding have received the greatest number of votes; also in this second case only an absolute majority is required.

76. Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.

Politics, piety mix during convention-like conclave
The late Father Walter Imbiorski, a man with family roots deep in Chicago ethnic politics, once remarked that 'Dick Daley could wire a conclave in 48 hours.' 'That long?' I replied in feigned surprise. He meant the first Mayor Daley. Not that the current Mayor Daley could not figure out the politics of a conclave that quickly. The conclave, you see, is a political event, arguably the political event par excellence.

Some will think that such a comment approaches the edges of blasphemy. In fact, politics, the art of governing, is according to Aristotle (who ought to know!) the second most honorable art, ranking only after poetry. Politicians are masters of the art not of the perfect but of the possible, of supporting the candidate who can win, and not the best possible candidate, of the broadest possible collation rather than the most admirable. It is through them the Holy Spirit works.
If one is looking for a model to which to compare a conclave, one might choose American political conventions in the old days (as depicted brilliantly by the late Steve Neal in his Happy Days Are Here Again), though in the case of a conclave all the campaigning is done indirectly, behind the scenes, and by subtle hints and conversations, winks, slight nods of the head, and pregnant silences that are typical of both the Roman style and the Irish smoke-filled room.

Liberal cardinals bite bullet and join in show of unity
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of English and Welsh Catholics and a sympathiser with the progressive camp, also gave his firm support to Benedict, but appeared to undermine his case with a slip of the tongue.

Asked why the cardinals picked Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed John Paul II, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor initially said "they chose this man" before correcting himself by saying "we chose this man".

In what some felt was equivocal praise, he said: "We have a good man who will be a good Pope." He argued that Benedict was an intelligent and courteous man who would listen to all points of view and could come up with "a few surprises".

"When Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a particular task to do. Now that he is Pope it is entirely different. Now he is Peter for the whole church.

"I feel very content," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said.

Ratzinger was always the man to beat
Marco Politi, writing in La Repubblica, suggested that support had been coalescing around Cardinal Ratzinger as early as Christmas, given the realisation that John Paul's health was seriously declining.

Going into the conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger had active help in mustering votes from powerful cardinals of the Roman curia in charge of important departments, including Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, and Julian Herranz, a priest member of the conservative lay group Opus Dei. Giovanni Battista Re, Crescenzio Sepe and Angelo Sodano were also mentioned as his backers, perhaps in the second round.

The tipping point came, Politi wrote, when two crucial Italian cardinals - Camillo Ruini, John Paul's longtime vicar for Rome, and Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, also mentioned as a candidate - threw their support behind the German.

The prospect of a drawn-out battle - and the message it would send about church unity - scared off the liberal opposition, and their leader, Carlo Maria Martini, sent his votes to Cardinal Ratzinger, Politi suggested. Cardinal Martini may have had an inkling of what might be ahead. A priest who had seen him the previous weekend said in an interview that the Milan cardinal appeared distressed.

Some time late on Tuesday afternoon Cardinal Ratzinger reached the 77 votes needed for election. The cardinals gasped, and then clapped, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor recounted.

"He couldn't have been unaware," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said, "that this was quite likely to happen."

And almost before the electors knew it, the grave atmosphere of the conclave was over, and they were singing Latin songs, eating chicken cordon bleu and toasting the new Pope with spumante.

Groundswell Swept Ratzinger Into Office
The Latin Americans' conquest of turf in Vatican City also meant that many had little interest in decentralization, a priority of U.S. and Central European moderates, he said.

The remnants of resistance to Ratzinger faded during the two ballots Tuesday morning. Glemp, the Polish cardinal, said the consensus resulted from patient discussion.

"Calmly, calmly, without propaganda, we talked and two-thirds thought he was the best," Glemp said.

The shift in allegiance to Ratzinger included prominent members of the reformist camp aligned with Martini, according to several accounts. Marco Politi, the Vatican correspondent for the Rome daily La Repubblica, reported that Martini sealed the outcome when he acquiesced.

At midday Tuesday, "Ratzinger's position had become so strong that it was up to the other electors — if they did not want to give an impression of great disarray, disastrous for the church's international image — to take a step to give their votes to the most prestigious, and finally most unifying, candidate," Politi wrote. "That's what happened with the blessing of Martini."

After the decisive ballot Tuesday afternoon, the cardinals applauded Ratzinger. Sodano, the secretary of state, then asked the ritualistic question: "Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?"

"Yes, I accept," Ratzinger responded.

Ratzinger then told Sodano he had chosen the name Benedict XVI. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany said the new pope looked "a little forlorn" as he headed into the chapel's Room of Tears, a name that refers to popes who have wept as they donned white vestments.

Pervasive 'non-campaign' fractured rules of secrecy
'Marco finally got it right'
When John Paul began to fail, members of some of the "new movements" began to spread the same ideas to anyone who would listen, providing interpretations for media personnel that contributed to the atmosphere that Ratzinger was both the right candidate and a sure winner when the cardinal electors assembled in Rome.

I emphasize that there was nothing wrong with the behavior. Rather, it was intelligent politics -- and as I have insisted in this series of columns, a conclave is an exercise in politics, the art of government. Only after the pope's funeral and the cardinals' imposition of silence on themselves did the murky business of counting votes begin.

Each day of that week, the Italian media began to publish remarkably detailed lists of electors who had been lined up for the Bavarian cardinal. In the past, such lists had proved wrong. This time, they turned out to be accurate. As someone pointed out to me, "This time, Marco [Marco Poleti, Italy's most famous Vaticanologist] finally got it right."

At this point, two questions must be asked about the "non-campaign." Were cardinals violating the rules of silence they had imposed on themselves and the conclave rules that the late pope had legislated and canvassing for votes? Were cardinals or their aides passing these tallies to local journalists?

If they were, and whatever the ethics of such behavior, the pretense of secrecy had become porous. Behind the scenes, precinct politics were taking place, which, if they did not shape Ratzinger's plurality, certainly publicized it. His candidacy obtained what in American election we call the "big mo" -- momentum. One hears today that after the first (of four ballots), there was almost no doubt about the outcome.

Was it necessary?
In the pragmatics of electioneering, there can be no objection to the canvass of votes, the selection of a winner and even the proclamation of that winner before the voting begins. The rules of secrecy and silence were, however, fractured. I conclude that the rules are a mockery and cannot be sustained in a communications society, the like of which exists in the contemporary world.

We do not know exactly who voted for whom on the first ballot and who contributed to the emerging Ratzinger two-thirds majority -- though the names published in the press could provide excellent hints. Nor do we know who were the campaign managers who orchestrated the events of the final week. The first issue is not especially relevant. The second is important, and perhaps someone will find the answers.

Finally, two more questions: Was the "non-campaign" necessary, and secondly was the Holy Spirit behind the outcome?

Given the absence of an organization and a clear candidate among the progressives and the conservative tilt of the Sacred College, the "non-campaign" may have been exhilarating but unessential.

As to the Holy Spirit -- at the risk of being told by hate mail that I do not deserve to be a priest -- I submit that to claim God's spirit for one's own cause comes dangerously close to idolatry. The spirit blows whither he will. No one can claim his patronage.

As Ratzinger has said, it is wrong to assert that the spirit is responsible for the outcome of a papal election because there have been popes the spirit could not have chosen. Yet we can always pray to the spirit to help and protect Benedict XVI.

None of this, of course, proves that Curia and the new movements succeeded in imposing a candidate on the conclave or makes the result illegitimate. Nor does it say much about what kind of pontiff Pope Benedict XVI will be. There have been too many Gorbachevs, and for that matter too many Nixons in China, to read all that much into the future pontificate from the pope's past record. Nevertheless, it is fairly clear that the new rule allowing election by 1/2+1 after 30 ballots has fundamentally changed the way the conclave works. A determined candidate who can hold his votes together can offer simply to wait until the lower majority kicks in.

We have yet to see how Benedict XVI will answer the challenges facing the church. It will not b enough to assume that challenges like the scandal of clergy abuse are restricted to the 'dying' churches of Europe and North America. Nor will it be enough to assume the shortage of priests only effects the northern churches. Honduras has 5 million people and 400 priests. The Philippines is short by 25000 priests. A sacramental church that cannot administer the sacraments is in trouble whether that happens in the global north or the global south.

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