donderdag 28 juli 2011

The secret diary of the most recent conclave

This afternoon I took a room at Casa Santa Marta. Setting down my bags, I tried to open the shades, as the room was dark, but it was impossible. One of my brothers had the same problem, and asked for help from the sisters in charge. He thought it was a technical problem. The sisters explained that the blinds had been sealed shut. Seclusion of the Conclave….A new experience for nearly all of us: out of 115 cardinals, only two had previously participated in the election of a pope....

With these words begin the “secret diary” of the conclave that led to the election of Benedict XVI on 19 April 2005 - the confidential, hand-written notes of an anonymous cardinal upon returning to his room after voting in the Sistine Chapel. This remarkable document, published in the journal Limes, allows a step-by-step reconstruction of the balloting process, raising the veil of secrecy that, by the will of the Popes, has always covered the conclave. From the cardinal’s notes obtained by the journal, we learn first of all that Ratzinger’s candidacy was extremely strong from the beginning.

The seventy-eight year old Bavarian cardinal was the only candidate who could count on the dedicated support of a well-organized group, disproving speculation that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, contemporary of the new Pope and ex-archbishop of Milan, played a crucial role in the election of Benedict XVI. And consequently, the notes confirm the story published in the Milan daily newspaper Il Giornale the day after the conclave: the only real rival to Ratzinger who could count on a consistent number of votes - up to 40 - was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

But let’s go by degrees and reconstruct, step-by-step, the timeline of events that took place in the secrecy of the Sistine Chapel in the twenty-four hours starting the afternoon of Monday, 18 April 2005. At eighteen hundred hours, after the 115 cardinals entered the chapel, had been sworn and heard a meditation by the octogenarian Spidlik, the first round of voting begins. The ballots, rectangular and made to be folded in two, are distributed. On the upper half is written Eligo in Summo Pontificem (“I elect as Supreme Pontiff”); on the lower half, a space to write the chosen name.

Each cardinal approaches the metal ballot box, emits a solemn utterance and deposits his ballot. Everything is finished a few minutes after nineteen hundred hours. The negative result of the vote is a given, but the results are surprising. Ratzinger receives forty-seven votes, Bergoglio – and this is the real surprise of the conclave - receives ten. Nine votes go to Martini, six to Camillio Ruini, Vicar General to the Pope and President of the CEI. Four go to Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, three to the cardinal from Honduras, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, and two to Dionigi Tettamanzi, Martini’s successor in Milan. There are then over thirty votes dispersed among all the cardinals in the conclave, individual votes that do not carry any weight – accordingly, the cardinal-author of the ‘“secret diary” did not note them in his memoir. The smoke is unequivocally black.

After this first vote, the position of the “progressive” wing of the conclave was greatly diminished. They had decided to vote for Martini, a “test candidate,” for the sole purpose of checking to see how many votes he could get. The cardinals left the Sistine Chapel and went to eat. Ratzinger supporters had had a good start, but the Bergoglio surprise hit many electors hard. The archbishop of Buenos Aires is a shy person who avoids TV cameras and does not give interviews. He left the Archbishop’s Palace to live simply and humbly in a small apartment, his character reminiscent in some ways of Pope Luciani. After dinner, they hold small meetings to decide what to do, and above all to convince the undecided. «Small groups, two-three people, there are no big meetings. As in all the hotels, a ban on smoking has been added to the thousand already-existing prohibitions. The Portuguese Cardinal Jose Policarpo da Crux, a famously inveterate smoker, cannot resist and goes outside to light up a good cigar».

The next morning, Tuesday, 19 April, at nine, the 115 cardinals return to Michelangelo’s frescoed Chapel, and under the severe gaze of the figures of the Universal Judgment, pick up their ballots once again. The result of the second vote shows a significant diminution of votes for individual candidates. Ratzinger’s tally climbs to sixty-five (he needs twelve more votes to reach the two-thirds majority needed for election in the first two weeks of conclave) and Bergoglio’s share climbs considerably to thirty-five. Ruini loses all his votes, which go to Ratzinger and not Martini, whose supporters voted for Bergoglio. Only Sodano hangs onto his four votes, and Tettamanzi to his two.

(Source: Andrea Tornielli, La Stampa, Vatican Insider)