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Although I have consciously avoided much speculation about possible papabile, what goes on behind the scenes, or even who I prefer to be the new Pope (as I don’t think this is a political election in which the popularity of a given cardinal plays any part, and besides, it’s not up to me to decide who should be Pope – thank God!), there is some merit in thinking about the question that is the headline of this post: how long can we expect the conclave to take? At the very least it will be informative.
Of the conclaves held in the 20th and 21st centuries, the longest was the 1922 one, in which Pius XI was elected. His election took 14 ballots, or five days. The shortest was the next one, in 1939, electing Pius XII. This took only three ballots, or less than two full days. On average, a conclave in the specified period took roughly 7 ballots, which coincides with 4 or 5 days.
Oddly enough, the larger number of electors in the most recent conclaves, as compared to earlier conclaves, does not lengthen an election significantly. The conclaves of 2005 (115 electors choosing Benedict XVI) and the first of 1978 (111 electors; John Paul I) were among the shortest with 4 ballots each. The conclaves of 1914 (57 electors; Benedict XV) and 1922 (53 electors) needed 10 and 14 ballots respectively.
Generally, based on the numbers, we may expect the upcoming conclave to take between 4 and 6 ballots, as those were the numbers needed in the past four elections (with the exception of the second conclave of 1978, which elected Pope John Paul II – this had 8 ballots). With a starting date of 12 March, we may expect the “Habemus papam!” to resound across St. Peter’s Square and the world on 13, 14 or 15 March, or maybe the 16th or 17th (but this is, in my opinion, less likely).
But, as with all predictions regarding the elections of Popes, all this may turn out to be wrong. The conclave may be over within less than two days, or take a week or longer. In the end, there’s really no telling what will transpire.
Here is a little table with some information about the conclaves of the 20th and 21st centuries:
31 July – 4 August 1903: 62 cardinals elected Giuseppe Melchiore Cardinal Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice, as Pope Pius X. The election took 7 ballots. This was the last conclave in which a veto was used.
- 31 August – 3 September 1914: 57 cardinals elected Giacomo Cardinal della Chiesa, the Archbishop of Bologna, as Pope Benedict XV. The election took 10 ballots.
- 2 – 6 February 1922: 53 cardinals elected Achille Cardinal Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Pius XI. The election took 14 ballots.
- 1 – 2 March 1939: 62 cardinals elected Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State, as Pope Pius XII. The elections took 3 ballots. It is said that the third ballot was on the request of Cardinal Pacelli, who had already won the majority vote after the second ballot, to confirm his election.
- 25 – 28 October 1958: 49 cardinals elected Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John XXIII. The election took 11 ballots.
- 19 – 21 June 1963: 80 cardinals elected Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini, the Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Paul VI. The election took 6 ballots.
- 25 – 26 August 1978: 111 cardinals elected Albino Cardinal Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, as Pope John Paul I. The election took 5 ballots.
- 14 – 16 October 1978: 111 cardinals elected Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, as Pope John Paul II. The election took 8 ballots. This was the first conclave in modern times in which a non-Italian was elected.
- 18 – 19 April 2005: 115 cardinals elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Pope Benedict XVI. The election took 4 ballots.
In 1946 the archbishop of Utrecht became the first resident cardinal in the Netherlands since the Reformation. But Cardinal Jan de Jong need not have been the first.
Historical research indicates that in 1911 Pope Saint Pius X had his eyes on Archbishop Henricus van de Wetering as the first Dutch cardinal of modern times. But the publication of his encyclical Editae saepe, a year earlier, made that rather difficult, as that encyclical on Saint Charles Borromeo brought forth the fury of Queen Wilhelmina, who was less then pleased with the strong anti-Protestant language in the papal publication.
Making Archbishop van de Wetering, who headed the Archdiocese of Utrecht from 1895 to 1929, a cardinal would unnecessarily antagonise the queen and perhaps increase the anti-Catholic tendencies existing in Dutch society at that time.
Instead, Pius X went for a safer option: a Dutch cardinal, but one who was working in the Curia, on the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law and as general consultor of the Redemptorist order: Willem Marinus van Rossum.
After Cardinal de Jong, every archbishop of Utrecht was created a cardinal, if he wasn’t one already, such as Cardinal Willebrands.
Photo credit: Katholiek Documentatie Centrum, Nijmegen
Today, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Francesco Moraglia as Patriarch of Venice. The 58-year-old prelate succeeds Cardinal Angelo Scola, who was transferred to Milan in June of last year. Patriarch Moraglia has a virtually certain shot at a red hat at some future consistory and will be one to watch, if only because Venice gave the Church no less than three popes in the last century-and-a-bit: Pope Saint Pius X, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul I.
Photo credit: La Nazione
Pope Benedict XVI’s first pastoral visit of the season, set to take off tomorrow, will technically take him abroad, but not very far. The Patriarchal See of Venice will be his host for a two-day visit, specifically the cities of Aquileia (on Saturday), Mestre and Venice (on Sunday) . Having provided three popes (Saint Pope Pius X, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul I) in the twentieth century alone, the See of Venice is an ancient and venerable one in the Catholic Church in Italy and the world. It is currently helmed by Patriarch Angelo Cardinal Sodano.
Pope Benedict’s visit will feature encounters with faithful, a his attending a preparatory meeting for Pentecost 2012′s Congress of Aquileia, the veneration of the relics of St. Mark, and outdoor Mass, a meeting with cultural and economical representatives, the blessing of a recently restored chapel in the Basilica of St. Mark and the inauguration of the Studium Generale Marcianum library.
As usual, I’ll do my best to provide some interesting ‘papal soundbytes’ of the Holy Father’s various addresses, homilies and interviews.
A wealth of historical information has been made digitally available by the Vatican: the official Acts of the Holy See from 1865 to 2007. That covers the papacies of Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the unification of Italy, two Vatican Councils, the challenge of modernism, the publication of the first Code of Canon Law, two world wars, the creation of the Vatican City State and the cold war. A lot of topics which directly affected the Vatican and the Catholic Church and which resulted in many hundreds of pages of documents.
Browsing is not really useful with this collection, since the PDF files take while to load, due to their size. And it requires a working knowledge of Italian, but all the same: it’s a treasure chest of information.
Now to learn Italian…