In Secret, Cardinals Begin Their Balloting to Choose a Pope
April 19, 2005
By DANIEL J. WAKIN and IAN FISHER for the New York Times
VATICAN CITY, April 18 - Black smoke pirouetted Monday from a chimney over the Sistine Chapel, signaling that the cardinals electing the 265th pope had taken a first inconclusive vote two and a half hours after locking themselves in their tradition-laden conclave.
Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter's Square, their necks craned toward the chapel's roof and binoculars trained on the chimney. The 115 cardinals had retreated behind the chapel's heavy wooden doors in the afternoon, deliberating under Michelangelo's frescoes to choose a successor to John Paul II through secret balloting.
Several minutes after 8 p.m., a wisp of smoke wafted from a smokestack, and many thought it was white, meaning a pope had been elected with lightning speed.
A roar erupted and people surged forward, shouting, "It's white! It's white!" But as the smoke thickened, it became obvious that it was black.
"What a shame," said Erica Barocco, 26, of Rome when she finally figured out the color. "I would have preferred it to be white because I want to see a new pope."
Huge television screens in the square made the color clear, along with silence from the bells of St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican officials have said they will ring simultaneously with white smoke to confirm that a pope had indeed been chosen, to avoid confusion of the sort that took place on Monday and that has occurred in the past.
"Let's wait for tomorrow," said the Rev. Crispinus Barasa of Kenya, who is studying in Rome.
Scores of priests in black and nuns in brown and blue robes were in the square for the first such spectacle since 1978, when John Paul II was elected. There was also a polyglot mix of tourists and parents with children in their arms, hoping to ingrain a lifelong memory. Already, a crimson curtain hung on the central balcony of the basilica facing St. Peter's for the new pope's traditional first appearance in public.
An election on the first ballot was highly unlikely; it is extremely difficult for a candidate to receive the needed two-thirds majority so soon. The first vote has traditionally been a time to gauge the strength of contenders and cast ballots for friends.
The cardinals, after spending the night sequestered in the St. Marta residence behind Vatican walls and probably trying to reach some consensus, return to vote Tuesday morning at 9.
The drama in the square followed a day of pageantry and a pointed theological discourse by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the college of cardinals and John Paul's doctrinal watchdog.
Considered a possible pope but more likely a kingmaker for another, Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated a Mass before the conclave and in his homily delivered an uncompromising warning against any deviation from traditional Catholic teaching.
"A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite," the cardinal said, "and which leaves as the ultimate measure only one's ego and desires."
For 25 years Cardinal Ratzinger served as John Paul's theological right hand as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In his writings and public statements, he has often sought to uphold the primacy of Catholicism. "Relativism," he has said, implies wrongly that other faiths are equally valid.
In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said Christians were being tossed on the waves of Marxism, liberalism and even "libertinism," of radical individualism, atheism and vague mysticism. He also deplored the formation of "sects," a term church leaders often use to refer to Protestant evangelical movements.
"Having a clear faith, according to the credo of the church, is often labeled as fundamentalism," he said. "Yet relativism, that is, letting oneself be carried here and there by any wind of doctrine, appears as the sole attitude good enough for modern times."
Many of the cardinals watched intently as Cardinal Ratzinger spoke. Several others appeared to doze.
While the cardinal has been saying similar things for decades, hearing them expressed just before the conclave, and so sharply at that, was unexpected. But there were different interpretations of his intent.
At John Paul's funeral, the cardinal showed his pastoral side, said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat and author of a book about papal succession. At the Mass on Monday, Mr. Pham said, Cardinal Ratzinger gave "evidence that he also has, if you will, the 'vision thing,' that he has definite ideas of where the natural progression of John Paul's theological legacy is."
"Whether that's a campaign statement or requirement of what the next guy must have - that remains to be seen," he added.
The message is that John Paul's goals must be maintained, he said. "Either as a candidate or a grand elector, he's definitely in a very strong position, and he wouldn't have made this statement if he was standing alone," Mr. Pham said.
It was very likely that most cardinals were well familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger's thinking, and his belief that the church's first priority should be to shore up the doctrinal walls. "It's very honest," said the Rev. Gerald O'Collins, a Jesuit theologian at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. "That's what he thinks. Some of the cardinals would not agree with his summation. Other things like war and peace and hunger are high on the agenda of other cardinals."
The Rev. Raymond J. de Souza, chaplain at Newman House at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said Cardinal Ratzinger's homily was an "exhortation" to keep in mind that the primary responsibility of a pope is to preserve the faith passed on from the apostles and not to dilute or experiment with it.
"If the faith is strong, then the church can take on these other issues," said Father de Souza, who writes a syndicated column.
Prof. Hans Küng, a German theologian at the University of Tübingen who has quarreled with Cardinal Ratzinger and been censured by the Vatican, said he heard similar views many years ago from him. "His ideology is a medieval, anti-Reformation, anti-modern paradigm of the church and the papacy," he said.
Before voting, the cardinals began the conclave with a solemn procession into the Sistine Chapel. They walked slowly in pairs as a choir chanted the Litany of the Saints, passing between Swiss guards in full regalia.
After taking their seats behind long tables, they heard Cardinal Ratzinger read them an oath of secrecy, obedience to the conclave rules and a commitment to serve if elected pope. Their birettas, the red hats that symbolize their authority, sat on the tables in front of them.
Then, they lined up and one by one put a hand on the Gospel and swore to obey. The entire pageant was televised live, a first in conclave history and in keeping with the tradition of John Paul II, who used television throughout his papacy to promote the faith. Even in death, his image was broadcast as he lay in state inside St. Peter's Basilica.
"Extra omnes!" declared Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies - "Everyone out!" He and a theologian chosen to deliver an inspirational message remained. The rules called for them to leave after the address. Then the door was locked.
The mourning for the pope seemed fully lifted Monday, with an air of expectation in St. Peter's Square. In contrast to the solemnity of the funeral rites, the Mass on Monday was open to tourists, whose babies cried and whose cameras flashed at this latest chapter in two millenniums of Christian history.
After the Mass, the congregation of priests, nuns, pilgrims and a scattering of tourists applauded as the cardinals walked in procession out of the basilica, the applause rising, it seemed, as favored papal candidates passed. But the loudest applause was for Cardinal Ratzinger as he brought up the end of the procession - applause so enthusiastic that he gave a big smile to recognize it.
Laurie Goodstein and Jason Horowitz contributed reporting for this article.