What the conclave considers when electing a new pope

March 12, 2013

The Roman Catholic Church’s leaders locked themselves inside the Sistine Chapel to formally begin the secret, highly ceremonial process of selecting their next leader, but could not decide on one on Tuesday. Anthony Faiola and Jason Horowitz wrote:

After a little more than three hours of prayer and deliberations, black smoke billowed out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, signaling that a vote had been taken but that the cardinals had not chosen a pope.

Before beginning their deliberations, the cardinals, chanting the names of the saints in Latin, proceeded into the chapel, which had been swept for listening devices and fitted with jamming equipment to block the sending of text messages, e-mails or tweets.

Seated at long tables, with Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” high above them on the frescoed walls, the cardinals recited an oath in unison, vowing to act in accord with the Holy Spirit and keep the confidentiality of the conclave.

They then lined up and, one at a time, placed their right hand on an open Bible. With Italian, Spanish, German, American, Indian and myriad other accents, they again vowed in Latin: “So help me God, and these Holy Gospels, which I touch with my hand.” Television cameras were permitted to record the scene, which was transmitted live on CNN and other news stations around the world.

Then Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgical celebrations and a famous stickler for the rules, cried “extra omnes,” meaning “everyone out!” Aides, staff and television crews promptly headed for the doors.

The Holy Spirit at the papal conclave plays a large role, Mathew Schmalz wrote:

When Catholics talk about religious “inspiration,” they usually are thinking about the Holy Spirit. In Catholic doctrine, the Holy Spirit is the third part of the Trinity. The Catholic catechism refers to the Holy Spirit with the pronoun “he,” and Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “paraclete,” the “consoler,” or “he who is called to one’s side.”

For Catholics, the Holy Spirit comes through baptism, and through the other sacraments. But he also comes in ways we do not expect. Knowledge and wisdom are among the seven gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to sanctify a person. There are also special or “charismatic” graces associated with Holy Spirit that are specific gifts related to a particular task or vocation for the common good.

All these gifts of the Holy Spirit figure into how the conclave is designed.

The Mass is more than a ceremony to inaugurate the proceedings. It is a sacrament that bestows grace on those who are properly disposed. The meditative chanting of “Come Holy Spirit” is not only a petition or plea, it is a way of quieting one’s mind and heart, so that the Holy Spirit can be felt and heard.

Black smoke emmitted from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel signals that the cardinals did not elect a new pope after the first vote during the papal conclave. (Courtesy of CatholicTV/The Washington Post)

Picking a pope isn’t easy, and the leaders must take many things into account, according to Clayton Christensen:

As we watch the news coming out of the Vatican, and the anointment of a major religious leader, we return to the question of why so many churches are in decline — and who could successfully lead their 21st-century resurgence. Are the young falling away because they can’t relate to leaders from prior generations? Could more flexible leaders convince those who are leaving to come back? Should we blame out-of-date beliefs that leave clergy with flimsy answers to today’s questions?

Flexibility is not the problem. Many churches have bent over backward to be flexible. They have gone so far as to remodel their churches as figurative cafeterias, where the menus list beliefs and practices rather than soups or sandwiches. You can put “honesty” on your tray, some Sabbath-light church attendance (only Christmas and Easter), the package of promiscuous sex before marriage and fidelity afterward, and so on. When you get to the end of the line, just show the clerk what’s on your tray and ask, “Can you guide me to a church that will allow me to believe want I want to believe, and do what I want to do?”

Yet the reality is, people don’t need churches for such options. Society provides all of these, and more. Flexibility has actually accelerated churches’ decline, because they now stand for less and less.

Whomever takes over the reigns as pope will have at least one important decision to make right off the bat: his name. Caitlin Dewey explains how a pope picks his name, and why it matters:

When the new pope is chosen, he’ll select a papal name. And oddsmakers are betting his choice will be Leo — though Gregory, Pius and Peter also sound like good picks.

That’s according to the oft-quoted PaddyPower.com, the Irish gambling site that has placed more than $450,000 in papal bets. But the guesses aren’t exactly wild conjecture. Papal naming dates back to 533, when Mercurius switched out his name for the more Biblical John I, and Vatican-watchers say the pope’s name choice reflects the issues and philosophy of his time.

“They’re thinking about something when they choose this name,” William Portier, the chair of Catholic theology at the University of Dayton, told Canada’s CTV. “It’s not just something that they think sounds good — they consider it to be a weighty thing.”

For instance, picking Leo — current odds, 47 percent— would pay tribute to the late 19th-century Pope Leo XVIII, who wrote extensively on social justice issues and tried to calibrate the church with the modern world. A Leo IX would theoretically be “a modern social-justice pope,” Michael Dougherty theorizes at Slate.

Related:

New pope to inherit demystified office

Cardinals open papal conclave at Sistine Chapel

VIDEO: The mood at the Vatican as the cardinals go into seclusion

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