VATICAN CITY, April 20 -- Behind the sealed doors of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church burst into applause Tuesday afternoon when, after four rounds of voting, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger received more than the 77 votes needed to become pope.
Head bowed, Ratzinger remained silent, unmoving.
Then the hush spread to the 114 other cardinals as they awaited the new pope's Accepto, his formal acceptance. In a low voice roughened by a cold, Ratzinger told them he would like to be known as Benedict XVI, honoring Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, and Benedict XV, the pope who tried to stop the First World War.
"I, too, hope in this short reign to be a man of peace," the new pope said, according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
With those words, Benedict XVI opened his papacy with a prediction -- that he would not hold the throne of Saint Peter as long as John Paul II -- and a promise -- that he would promote conciliation. Both ideas appear to have been crucial to his election.
Although the cardinals swore an oath of perpetual secrecy about what occurred in the conclave, many began to talk about it on Wednesday. Some said they had long been convinced that Ratzinger was the right man. Others said his performance at John Paul's funeral and other rituals in recent days had made a deeply favorable impression.
In any case, the 78-year-old German cardinal steadily built support before and during the two-day conclave, according to these accounts. He ate breakfast with African and Asian cardinals. He assured U.S. prelates that he was in tune with their efforts to deal with child sexual abuse by priests. He sought to allay fears that he would set back attempts at interfaith dialogue.
After the 26-year pontificate of John Paul, some cardinals did not want another long reign; for them, Ratzinger's age was reassuring. Others were concerned that the Vatican's longtime guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy might come across to ordinary Catholics as too severe; for them, his desire to step out of his old role and to be a conciliator, a man of peace, was vital.
Moreover, the opposition was fractured. Three key Spanish-speaking cardinals firmly backed Ratzinger from the outset, as did two influential Italians. That meant there was not unified backing for either an Italian or a Latin American candidate.
From the very first vote on Monday evening, Ratzinger was at the front of the pack of contenders. And almost before the electors knew it, the grave atmosphere of the conclave was over, and they were singing Latin songs, eating chicken cordon bleu and toasting the new pope with spumante.
"It's wonderful to be in a group of 115 people, and you're all equals. You're all talking: Eminence this, Eminence that, first name this, first name that. And then suddenly, one of you is different," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington. "He's no longer one of you. He's the Holy Father, the successor to Peter and the Vicar of the Christ."
For years, Joseph Ratzinger was a rarity in the church, the only Vatican official other than John Paul with global name recognition. His book-length interview with an Italian journalist, "The Ratzinger Report," was a European bestseller in the mid-1990s and sold 50,000 copies in English.
Already the best-known member of the College of Cardinals, his profile only increased after John Paul died on April 2. He presided over the pope's funeral, led the cardinals in their closed-door sessions to discuss the state of the church and celebrated Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Monday, the day the conclave began.
Deliberately or not, Ratzinger reduced the attention other cardinals got from the news media by persuading his colleagues to agree to stop talking to reporters on the day after John Paul's funeral. That news blackout put an end to the traditional floating of candidates during the novemdiales, or nine-day mourning period, after the death of a pope.