The current conclave will be strikingly different from its predecessors: there will be a far larger and much more diverse group of electors; the cardinals will be living comfortably (in a Vatican guest house) rather than miserably (in makeshift cubicles in the Apostolic Palace); the world and the church now expect things of a pope that were not expected in the past.
Still, a look at the conclaves of the 20th century suggests that there are almost always surprises afoot when the doors of the Sistine Chapel close and voting begins.
Conclave - 1903
The 1903 conclave that elected Giuseppe Sarto, patriarch of Venice, as Pius X was the last at which a monarch - in this case, the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Jozef - vetoed a candidate: Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, Secretary of State of the recently-deceased Leo XIII. One of Pius X's first acts was to forbid such interventions in the future.
Conclave - 1914
The 1914 conclave, held shortly after World War I broke out, had a dramatic ending. Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, archbishop of Bologna, seemed to have been elected by one vote. But his bitter enemy, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val, insisted the ballots be checked to insure that della Chiesa hadn't voted for himself. He hadn't.
When the cardinals offered their homage to the newly-elected Benedict XV, the new pope reportedly said to Merry del Val, puckishly or frostily, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." To which the unabashed Merry del Val replied with the next verse of Psalm 118: "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."
Conclave - 1922
In 1922, the same ideological forces that had collided in 1914 fought it out again, this time to a deadlock between the more open-minded Cardinal Pietro Gasparri and the "integrist" candidate, Cardinal Pietro La Fontaine. The deadlock was broken on the 14th ballot when Cardinal Achille Ratti was elected as Pius XI. Ratti had been archbishop of Milan and a cardinal for less than eight months.
Conclave - 1939
The 1939 conclave was the only 20th century papal election that didn't produce any surprises. Pius XI had long indicated that he thought his Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was the best possible successor. Meeting on the brink of World War II, the cardinals agreed, as Pacelli was elected as Pius XII in a one-day conclave.
Conclave - 1958
Nineteen years later, there were no obvious successors to Pius XII. The French cardinals came to Rome determined to elect a man some had dismissed as over-the-hill: 77-year old Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, patriarch of Venice and former nuncio to France. The Frenchmen held their votes together even when Roncalli's candidacy seemed to slip, gathered allies, and eventually got their candidate elected as John XXIII.
Conclave - 1963
John XXIII's signature accomplishment, the launching of the Second Vatican Council, set the context for the 1963 conclave. Anti-council cardinals wanted to bring Vatican II to a swift conclusion; others were determined to forge ahead. John XXIII had sent oblique signals indicating that he thought Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan, would make a fine pope, but anti-Montini voters blocked his election in the early balloting.
Cardinal Gustavo Testa, an old friend of John XXIII, then blew his stack, demanding the intransigents stop impeding Montini's path. Montini was elected the next day and took the name Paul VI.
Conclaves - 1978
The first conclave of 1978 illustrates the power of one energetic Great Elector to shape a conclave. Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, once Paul VI's principal aide, had settled on Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as his candidate; Benelli convinced others; Luciani was elected in a day - only to die 33 days later of a thrombosis.
The psychological and spiritual earthquake produced by John Paul I's sudden death created the human conditions for the possibility of doing the unthinkable - electing a non-Italian - in October 1978.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Catholic teaching is rife with exhortations that citizens and policy makers are to evaluate public policies and personal choices in light of their impact on human life and dignity.
Whether one quotes the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II or the pastoral letter on economic justice by the U.S. bishops, one finds affirmation for the proposition that people are more important than markets.
Yet in both the debate to limit the use of state tax dollars to fund the destruction of human embryos and to raise the minimum wage that proposition apparently isn't very compelling. In both instances the market is winning at this point.
The minimum wage has not increased in over seven years. An advisory panel of business and labor leaders has agreed on an increase. Several local governments have passed ordinances to raise the minimum wage in their communities. But the legislature has not acted based in part on the concerns of some that a higher minimum wage will adversely affect the economy.
At the same time, legislators are trying to enact a policy that prevents the use of tax credits and tax expenditures to subsidize research that destroys human embryos. The governor and others oppose this. Like those who oppose the higher minimum wage, they argue such a policy will adversely impact economic growth.
It is true that the destruction of human life is a graver matter than a wage that fails the test of justice. And public policy on the minimum wage does not have the same moral implications as a policy on embryonic stem-cell research. But both policy debates give us a chance to affirm that human beings have a transcendent value that goes far beyond economic factors.
Although a person denied a just wage might survive to find a better job, whereas life cannot be restored to a destroyed embryo, that does not change the fact that human beings suffer when society treats workers as commodities instead of as persons of intrinsic value.
Likewise, it may be true that only a few embryos will be destroyed in the laboratory and that many will benefit from the economic development fostered by a strong biotech industry in Wisconsin. But neither of these arguments alters the truth that the human dignity of all is undermined when we sacrifice the humanity of a few for economic gain.
As the bishops of the U.S. wrote in their statement, Living the Gospel of Life, "Nations are not machines or equations. They are like ecosystems. A people's habits, beliefs, values, and institutions intertwine like a root system."
This is the rationale behind a "consistent life ethic." For when we stand up for the intrinsic value of the human person at one time, we become more inclined to do so at other times.
The reverse is also true. When we subordinate human dignity in one debate, we render it easier to do in another.
Catholics can contribute a good deal to our politics by affirming that a consistent respect for the dignity of the person will serve us better than a consistent deference to economic development.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
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Those of us "of a certain age" or who are grandparents and great-grandparents recall quite a few popes in our lifetime, most of them from a great distance in relation to us.
There was Pope Pius XI, whose funeral we listened to on the radio in our Catholic schools. It was the late '30's, I believe, and I recall Sister telling us how good God was to allow this modern technology, the radio, to make us to feel part of this moment in history.
I also recall during World War II when Pope Pius XII was criticized for not taking a stronger stand against Hitler's treatment of the Jews. The Holocaust was considered a sin of omission by many.
Then came the wonderful time of Vatican II when the world rejoiced at the arrival of Pope John XXIII. His contribution to the church touched our lives directly. Women didn't have to cover their heads in church. We could eat meat on Friday and best of all, our Mass was in a language we understood and the priests faced the people. We were allowed to be directly involved by being commentators, Eucharistic ministers, and readers of God's word! This was full participation indeed.
Conclaves: Surprises abound in the Sistine Chapel (This week's edition)
In 1993 I was retired from fulltime teaching and feeling my way around a new career as a writer. One of the Catholic magazines I was writing for assigned me to travel to Denver (since I had a daughter living there anyway and wouldn't need a hotel) to cover Pope John Paul II's visit for the World Youth Day.
Here at last was a pope of the people! Unlike his predecessors who seemed to be prisoners of the Vatican, Pope John Paul II was traveling the world. It was his third trip to the United States, but the only time I was able to be anywhere near the area.
My daughter, Elizabeth, and I watched his arrival on television, excited beyond words to know that he was just a few miles away. To see the enthusiastic crowds which greeted him was a thrill like no other. And like most of the world, we were moved to tears when he spoke.
Hundreds of thousands of youth from all over the world demonstrated their love for the pontiff by hiking to and camping out at the park in which he said his Mass. I did the three mile hike but passed on the camping out.
The closest I got to him was when he flew into the site in his helicopter, low enough to see the features of his face and that cherubic smile of his. Like everyone else, I wept for joy. I just knew that anyone who could affect youth so profoundly would impact their lives forever.
Seven years later my daughter, Gretchen, and I made a trip to the Vatican. This time I had a very different reaction. It was the feast of the Epiphany in 2000 when we first stepped into St. Peter's Square. There we were surrounded by those fabulous pillars and statues, and the sound of a choir of angelic voices permeating the air.
It took a few minutes for us to realize that inside the basilica a Mass was being celebrated, and with all of the modern technology of the Third Millennium, brought to the thousands of people milling around or seated in the square. Three television screens displayed a larger-than-life image of John Paul as he gave his homily.
This time I was horrified at the sight of John Paul II. His head hung at a distorted angle, his words were slurred and slowed, and he seemed frail, fragile. I turned to my daughter and said, "He's going to die while we're here! We got here just in time."
Well, it took him five more years to die. It is unfathomable to me how the pope could have endured all that suffering!
The impact his visit made on Denver in 1993 was nothing compared to the impact of his death on the world this month. Pope John Paul's travels and his ability to speak so many languages, the warmth of his personality and flair for the dramatic have left their mark. It has raised the bar for the next pope to be announced.
The thousands of dignitaries and millions of folks who thronged to pay their respects last week at the news of his death spoke volumes about the high esteem in which he was held.
Anna Quindlen, in her "Last Word" column in the April 18 issue of Newsweek says "Perhaps the most telling thing about his papacy is that he was mourned by millions who acted contrary to his directives."
Let's hope that it is not true.
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