First vote for pope ends in black smoke

Faithful's hopes dashed as wisps initially seem white

April 19, 2005|By Janice D'Arcy and Robert Little | Janice D'Arcy and Robert Little,SUN STAFF

VATICAN CITY -- The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church return to the sequestered secrecy of the Sistine Chapel this morning, resuming the deliberations to elect a new pope that ended yesterday with plumes of black smoke rising from the chapel's stovepipe -- a sign that their first vote did not produce a two-thirds majority.

Thousands in St. Peter's Square briefly saw the first wisps of smoke as white, building hopes that the 115 cardinals had chosen a successor to Pope John Paul II on their first ballot. But the cries of "Bianco! Bianco!" quickly subsided as the smoke grew thicker and darker.

Exactly when today the cardinals will vote again is unclear. Watching from the square, the only way to know is to stand, neck craned, searching the sky above the chimney for signs that the cardinals are burning their ballots.

And yet the conclave, the first since 1978, offered unprecedented television coverage of its preliminary ceremonies, with the crowds in Vatican City able to watch on giant outdoor screens as the cardinals gathered in the Hall of Benedictions and chanted the Litany of the Saints. Images from within the Sistine Chapel showed church leaders filing in and swearing "to observe faithfully and scrupulously" the rules for electing a pope.

But once Archbishop Piero Marini ordered "Extra omnes" -- everyone out -- and the cardinals were locked inside, the camera could see only the chapel's wooden doors, and the crowds were left only to watch for the smoke.

Even as the church undertook one of its most curious and highly anticipated rituals, talk among Vatican watchers centered on an unusual -- and unusually public -- display of electioneering that seemed to precede the events.

In the hours before the conclave began, the cardinals heard a pointed sermon bemoaning those who would lead them away from the church's conservative doctrine. It was a not-so-subtle indication of the potential politicking that awaits them, delivered by a rarely subtle Vatican official who has emerged as a standard-bearer for the church's traditional ways --Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany.

Celebrating a final Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mourn the late pope, Ratzinger warned of a "dictatorship of relativism" if the church does not uphold its teachings as fundamental and intractable truths.

"An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelties," said Ratzinger, commenting on a Bible reading in which the Apostle Paul wrote "we must not remain children in the faith."

"We must bring this adult faith to maturity, to this faith we must lead Christ's flock," Ratzinger said.

That anyone would deliver so direct an admonition in the cardinals' final moments of freedom was unexpected, given the church's almost fanatical attention to public collegiality and decorum since the pope's death.

That such a talking-to would come from a former archbishop of Munich whose underground nickname is "The Panzerkardinal" was less surprising and could offer a glimpse into the discourse that will determine the church's future leader.

Ratzinger, 78, is regarded as a contender for pope, though his age suggests he would be considered a transitional leader. Born in Bavaria, forced into the Hitler Youth at 14 and held briefly in an American prisoner-of-war camp before joining a Catholic seminary, he is one of the few sitting cardinals appointed before Pope John Paul's reign.

He was a close confidante of the last pope and professes the same conservative views toward topics such birth control, abortion and women in the priesthood. His candidacy would likely be contested by the church's more liberal leaders.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan, Italy, has surfaced as a possible anti-Ratzinger candidate -- someone who is more open to reinterpreting the church's doctrine. Shortly after the pope's death, Martini proposed in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Tempo that the church hold a summit "to undo the disciplinary and doctrinal knots."

The proposal was viewed as a jab at Ratzinger, whose position as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith -- a post with roots in the Inquisition -- allows him to serve as a sort of church disciplinarian, responsible for upholding and enforcing the conservative ideals at the core of Catholic teachings. Ratzinger also serves as dean of the College of Cardinals, which afforded him the final opportunity to speak from the capital of the Catholic Church.

With the 114 other voting cardinals seated in front of him, Ratzinger drew applause when he asked God "after the great gift of Pope John Paul II [to] again give us a pastor according to the dictates of his heart."

He listed several threats to the church, including Marxism, liberalism, agnosticism and what he called "vague religious mysticism." But he singled out the threat of relativism, which he defined as "allowing oneself to be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.