success stories

Posted May 9, 2003

Book: The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections
Author: Michael Walsh
Sheed and Ward, New York, pp. 180

Excerpt from Jacket:

In 1271, with the papal throne vacant for over two years, local officials locked the cardinals of the Catholic Church in a room, forcing them to select a new pope. From this inauspicious beginning arose the practice of the conclave, the highly secretive combination of rituals and politics designed to select a new leader for the world's Catholic population. With Pope John Paul II ailing, the time for a new conclave draws nearer, and Rome is preparing for over 6,000 journalists and innumerable interested onlookers to descend on the Eternal City to witness the election of the next leader of the Catholic Church.

In The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections prominent Catholic historian Michael Walsh takes readers through the history of conclaves past, highlighting the vendettas, feuds, and political intrigues that have colored the selection of a new pontiff. An entertaining history of the secret deliberations, colorful stories, and even bloody events that surround the making and undoing of popes. The Conclave is a significant story and an important work for anyone interested in the papacy.

Excerpt from the Book:

John Paul I died on 28 September. The cardinals could have waited twenty days according to Pope Paul's instruction, but there was no need. The conclave opened on 14 October. At first Siri seemed to be in the lead but his support rapidly fell away, possibly because, after the newspaper article and the debacle of August, he was essentially unelectable. Though Benelli's star continued to rise, Siri's votes — those the conservatives of various hues and some others such as Konig — switched to Wojtyla. By the sixth ballot Benelli and Wojtyla had polled almost identical votes. Clearly something had to give, and it was Benelli's support. It may be that too many had less than happy memories of Benelli's firm rule in the Vatican before he went to Florence. More likely the idea of electing a non-Italian took hold of the cardinals. In the seventh ballot Wojtyla overtook Benelli: in the eight he had more than achieved the two-thirds majority. He was asked if he would accept and did so, taking the title John Paul II. It was October 1978.

From the start, Wojtyla imposed his own will upon the papacy, refusing any assistance with putting on the white robes of a pope and departing from tradition by standing rather than sitting to receive the allegiance of the cardinals.

And it has been a long papacy. Elected a century after Leo XIII, the pontificate of John Paul II will soon rival Leo's as the second longest in history. It has been full of incident, form an assassination attempt in 1981, to his travels around the world, his incessant campaign for human rights, his centralization of Church power, and his condemnation of the ‘culture of death' — the acceptance in many countries of the practice of abortion, and the use of contraception almost everywhere despite an explicit ban by Pope Paul VI. John Paul has successfully reached out to Jews, and rather less successfully to Islam. In spite of his particular desire to establish good relations with the Orthodox, these are perhaps further away now than when they sent observers to John XXIII's Vatican Council. And his refusal to countenance the ordination of women has put a stop to ecumenical progress between Roman Catholicism and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

All this, and very much more has marked this contentious pontificate, a pontificate which has left the Catholic Church more divided than it was when Karol Wojtyla was elected Bishop of Rome. All these things will be in the cardinals' minds when they eventually meet to elect a new pope. This present pontificate has been so long that even now, at the beginning of 2003, all but a handful of the cardinals who file into the Sistine Chapel for that election will have been appointed by the man they meet to replace, Pope John Paul II.

Table of Contents:
1. In times of persecution
2. The end of empire
3. Descent into chaos
4. Attempting reform
5. The invention of the conclave
6. Princely pontiffs
7. The great powers take a hand
8. Modern times

Afterwood: How to spot a pope
Appendix: Chronological list of the popes