VATICAN CITY, April 18 -- Black smoke billowed from the copper chimney of the Sistine Chapel on Monday, signifying that Roman Catholic cardinals had failed to choose a successor to Pope John Paul II on their first vote and heralding another round of secret balloting on Tuesday.
When the first wisps of smoke appeared outside the chapel, there was a ripple of excitement across the crowd of 30,000 keeping vigil in St. Peter's Square. Some briefly thought they had seen white smoke, which would indicate the selection of a new pope. But such a result in the first round would have been a historical rarity.
Black smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, indicating that the first vote by the cardinals had failed to elect a new pope.
The 115 voting cardinals will continue casting ballots, in two sessions a day, until two-thirds -- 77 of them -- choose the 265th pope. If the conclave continues beyond about 12 days, the cardinals could switch to an election by simple majority, a procedural change introduced by John Paul.
The balloting followed a day of stately ritual. One potential candidate, the influential Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, delivered a hard-hitting sermon at a pre-conclave Mass attended by the cardinals. A close associate of John Paul and the dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger launched a passionate defense of strict orthodoxy.
"To have a clear faith according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," he told the cardinals and the congregation packed into St. Peter's Basilica. "While relativism, letting ourselves be carried away by any wind of doctrine, appears as the only appropriate attitude for the today's times. A dictatorship of relativism is established that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure."
Ratzinger's speech expounded one side of an argument that is framing the conclave. Opponents say that Ratzinger and other Vatican-based prelates are stifling Catholic debate on religious and ethical subjects. A dispute between so-called conservatives and progressives in the conclave could overshadow issues of personality and geography in choosing the next pope, according to Vatican watchers.
The church has been shaken by "numerous ideological currents," Ratzinger said. "The boat has been unanchored by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and on and on.
"An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty," he concluded.
During the sermon, the cardinals sat stiffly on chairs arranged in a crescent in front of the canopied altar. At the homily's end, many in the congregation behind them applauded. One ally of Ratzinger, Cardinal Camillo Ruini of Italy, discreetly clapped his hands.
In a series of speeches since late March, Ratzinger has emphasized shoring up faith and obedience as a cure for societal ills in modern industrialized countries. As head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger disciplined clerics and theologians who questioned John Paul's teachings on subjects ranging from the ban on artificial contraception to the need for celibacy in the clergy. Over the past two years, Ratzinger also issued a number of controversial documents and statements, among them a letter decrying radical feminism, and in an interview opposed the proposed membership of Turkey -- a predominantly Muslim nation -- in the European Union.
The directness of Ratzinger's sermon on Monday surprised some. "His speech was rather unusually straightforward," said Lucetta Scaraffia, a history professor at La Sapienza University in Rome. "Usually, just before a conclave, cardinals try to present themselves as a mediator. That's not Ratzinger. You might say it was courageous."
"I thought it was Ratzinger saying, in effect, what you see is what you get," said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. "It was vintage Ratzinger -- calm, deliberate, precise, incisive."
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, said Ratzinger's homily indicated that he believes the pope's role is to "protect the sheep from the prowling wolves of unorthodoxy and relativism. He wants to defend the fact that truth is absolute and the church must speak the truth and be faithful to it."
McBrien added, "If Cardinal Ratzinger were really campaigning for pope, he would have given a far more conciliatory homily designed to appeal to the moderates as well as to the hard-liners among the cardinals."