The cardinals filed into the conclave hall as rain fell outside, rain, good luck on a wedding day, a sign of the Holy Spirit in some minds, a token of the undeniable tension that has preceded this time of choosing a new pope.
Later, at 7:42 p.m. Rome time, the smoke was black, as expected, no election on the first ballot. But the electors have run through the process for the first time, which might settle some nerves, unless an elector’s name is suddenly in play.
For most reporters, it was a time of anxious waiting, and the day’s stories tend to be moment-to-moment feeds of the pageantry or backgrounders summarizing the issues. Many are posting short reports of the proceedings on Twitter; see The Tablet’s compilation of tweets and news reports on Storify, which gives a feel for the kind of things buzzing online.
Longtime Vatican reporter Philip Pullella contributed to the Reuters report that recorded the solemn splendor and added an anecdote carried in Italian newspapers about tensions evident in the cardinal’s final General Congregation Monday: “The newspapers said the Vatican hierarchy's number two under Benedict, Tarcisio Bertone, had accused Brazil's Joao Braz de Aviz of leaking critical comments to the media. Aviz retorted to loud applause that the chatter was coming from the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, which has been criticized for failing to prevent a string of mishaps, including leaks, during Benedict's troubled, eight-year reign.”
And in a sign that the occasion of the conclave, Benedict’s unanticipated resignation, is unsettling to some in the church, Reuters also had a report of the burning of a photo of the pontiff emeritus by the a priest in the village of Castel Vittorio in northern Italy, with the cleric comparing Benedict to the sea captain who abandoned his cruise liner. Half the congregation walked out, the story said.
The day opened with a Mass for the election of a pope, in St. Peter’s Basilica, a grand public spectacle before the electors withdrew to the comparative privacy of the Sistine Chapel. An American seminarian at the North American College in Rome – Tony Hollowell of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a Notre Dame graduate, the Indianapolis Star reports – read the first lesson. In a report for The Nedw York Times, Michael Paulson tells what it is like for such students to be in Rome at a time of such drama. And Paulson notes how the NAC has grown recently: “The seminary has nearly doubled in size, with 256 students this year, up from 156 in 2006.”
The beginning of the conclave was a source of worry to some. The 92-year-old mother of Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn, regarded as a possible reform candidate, said the family is alarmed at the prospect he might be elected. Schoenborn, a student of Benedict who has been critical of the curia and some senior church officials for their handling of sexual abuse cases, “would not be up to the bitchiness in the Vatican; the intrigues in Vienna are enough for him," Eleonore Schoenborn, 92, told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper in an interview printed Tuesday.
The Catholic News Agency’s preconclave story highlighted the difficulty of assessing the differences among the cardinals, since political categories of liberal/conservative and the more recent curial/reform distinctions fade into and out of focus when considering individuals. CAN quoted Gianfranco Svider, former vice director of L’Osservatore Romano, as saying: ““Nowadays, the debate is not that polarized, and categories like ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’ (taken from politics and applied to the Church) are not worthy for explaining what is going on.” CNA also quoted Father Gino Belleri, a priest with five decades of experience working with the Vatican, who said: “There is a good deal of confusion among the cardinals. None of them belongs to a peculiar school of thought, and no one seems to have the needed consensus. I am afraid of a long conclave.”
Writing for the Globe and Mail in Toronto, the historian John Cornwell of Cambridge University has a longish and thoughtful piece on the task facing the cardinals and their eventual choice. “The new pope has a herculean task before him,” Cornwell writes. “He must try to redeem the Church from the huge damage to its reputation because of clerical sexual abuse, while addressing, as far as possible, the harm done to their victims. He must try to heal the divisions between liberal and conservative Catholics, which have reached a peak of vitriol in recent years. And he must try to devolve a measure of authority to the bishops of the world, while ensuring reasonable central control over limited essentials.”
The Public Broadcasting Service "Newshour" program reprinted on its website a detailed look at the role of the papacy in world affairs, an assessment done by the Council on Foreign Relations and first published by them.
And The Atlantic magazine provides a piece on the church’s electoral process that is worth reading to the end, for it draws a lesson from Catholic example and history that our society needs: “In America, we are in the midst of an ongoing debate about the value of different types of education. We see STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) pitted against the Humanities; vocational training pitted against the Liberal Arts. But Catholic history tells us to reject ‘either/or’ in favor of ‘both/and.’ We need both specific expertise and the fruits of contemplation. We need passionate commitment to both job training and liberal learning, especially when they seem to clash in opposition, so that we are ready to respond to the unexpected events that life generates. Who knew on February 10 that the public square would require the expertise of so many historians and theologians? Who knows what kind of experts we will need for the next surprise?”
Odds and ends: Radio Vatican has an interview with Victor L. Simpson, who has delayed his retirement as Rome bureau chief for the Associated Press. The cardinals, says Simpson, who has made 92 trips with Benedict and John Paul II, “are looking for someone to exert a strong hand in the Curia, at the same time someone with some pastoral charms, someone who knows how to speak, to communicate – that’s very important in today’s communications-mad world, you just have to learn to live with it.” And Ignatius Press has a page of resources for those who are watching this week’s events, many of them better suited to young people, perhaps.
So, as the cardinals proceed now, having “only God before their eyes,” in the words of the conclave ritual, we can wait and pray for a good choice, however they and we understand it.
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