The buzz around Ratzinger began long before the conclave, said Cardinal Rosalio Jose Castillo Lara, a nonvoting prelate from Venezuela. "I begged him, 'If they elect you, don't refuse,' " Castillo Lara said. He added that Ratzinger had an advantage in presiding over the funeral rites. "He did them well, and very serenely and with much humility," Castillo Lara said. "He showed himself to be very prepared."
A week before the conclave, Italian newspapers reported that Ratzinger already had a solid bloc of votes -- 40 according to Corriere della Sera, 50 according to La Repubblica.
Asked when the cardinals began focusing on Ratzinger as a candidate, McCarrick replied with a grin: "When we read the newspapers. Because the newspapers were telling us that Cardinal Ratzinger is the favorite. So we see, the Holy Spirit may speak through the newspapers -- sometimes even the Italian newspapers."
In the run-up to the conclave, the cardinals met daily in a modern hall inside the Vatican's medieval walls to discuss issues facing the church, including the spread of Islam, economic globalization and the ethical dilemmas raised by biotechnology.
These sessions were also covered by an oath of secrecy. But several cardinals made clear on Wednesday that the march of secularization across Western Europe was the number one problem on their minds, and that Ratzinger seemed to be part of the solution.
The new pope, said George, the Chicago archbishop, "understands Western society" and "is very well prepared" for the task of revitalizing Christianity in affluent, secular cultures.
On Monday morning, the cardinals attended the traditional Mass for the election of a pope at St. Peter's, where Ratzinger gave a stinging homily against the West's creeping "dictatorship of relativism." Those who hold firmly to belief in God and moral absolutes, he said, are accused of fundamentalism, while the only socially acceptable attitude seems to be that everything is relative and nothing is clearly right or wrong.
In effect, it laid out the philosophy behind Ratzinger's two decades of work as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
According to aides to two non-American cardinals, Ratzinger entered the conclave with firm backing from three influential cardinals with ties to the conservative renewal movement Opus Dei: Julian Herranz of Spain, head of the Vatican's department for interpreting legislative texts; Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, head of the department in charge of the clergy; and Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Colombia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
This meant the Spanish-speaking electors had not coalesced around a Latin American candidate, despite speculation that they might support such cardinals as Claudio Hummes of Brazil or Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras.
Meanwhile, two leading Italian prelates, Camillo Ruini of Rome and Angelo Scola of Venice, also openly supported Ratzinger. Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, widely seen as a possible candidate, "came in very disadvantaged," said one of the aides, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 115 voting cardinals from more than 50 countries filed into the Sistine Chapel on Monday afternoon in a somber and regal procession, wearing red robes and white lace. Following centuries-old procedures revised by John Paul in 1996, each voted by writing the name of his preferred candidate on a folded piece of paper, then held it up to show the entire assembly that it was a single ballot before depositing it into a urn.
By tradition, the voting took place in silence, punctuated only by prayers and the counting of ballots. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria described it as more "like a church service" than an election.
"I have to say that sitting in the Sistine Chapel with all these well-dressed figures in front of the Last Judgment, it's not just an ordinary meeting," Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of England said, referring to the Michelangelo fresco on one wall.