The Sacred College of Cardinals started secret [WORD ILLEGIBLE] yesterday for the second time in two months to elect [WORD ILLEGIBLE] pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
All 111 of the cardinals eligible to vote for a successor to John Paul, who died Sept. 28 after only 34 days as pope, filed into the Sistine Chapel. They were locked into the papal palace until they can produce the white puff of smoke from the chapel's chimney that traditionally proclaims the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of a pope.
For a week, cardinals have been meeting in little groups to discuss the conclave. Contrary is tradition, a large number of them have been talking to outsiders.
No one can predict the outcome with certainty, but it was clear that a consensus had emerged that the next pope would be another Italian and that he need not necessarily be someone who currently has pastoral duties at the head of a major diocese.
The cardinals have recently resisted electing colleagues who are part of the Curia, the central government of Vatican, but there has been a strong campaign to reverse the attitude of some.
The first one is scheduled this morning. If no one [WORD ILLEGIBLE] there is to be [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the morning session and, if necessary, two more in the afternoon. John Paul was chosen in August on the fourth ballot at the end of the first day's voting.
It was considered an unusually short conclave. The longest, in 1271, lasted nearly three years. In modern times, they have generally lasted three or four days.
A majority of two-thirds plus one vote is needed to elect a pope unless a deadlock develops. In that event, only a simple majority is required. The Italians are still the urgent single contingent, with 26 cardinals.There are 23 other West Europeans, six East Europeans, 12 Americans and Canadians and three from Australia and New Zealand - a total of 79 from the developed world.
The Third World, dominated by 19 Latin Americans, has 41 cardinals.
The front-runners now, according to experts on the Vatican, are Cardinal Glovanni Benelli, 57, of Florence, who is considered a Curia man, and Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, 72, of Genoa.
Siri is reliably understood to have received the highest number of votes in the first round of voting in the August conclave, but no votes in the second around. This time he is widely considered a stalking horse for another candidate who has yet to emerge, possibly Giovanni Colombo, 76, of Milan. For reasons only a veteran watcher for the Vatican could explain, age seems suddenly to be much less of a consideration in the speculative lists being circulated.
One observer described Siri as the candidate of the church's "traditional right," and Benelli as the candidate of the "flexible right."
The respected newspaper La Stampa of Turin said that 40 to 50 votes may already be committed to Benelli for the first round.
The equally respected and well-informed Corriere delle Sera said that the two front-runners were removed to have conferred by telephone at midweek. The paper went on to report on speculation that the two had agreed that Siri should be pope and that he would appoint Benelli his secretary of state, the equivalent of prime minister in the Vatican.
There was no evidence to show that either report has any more validity than the other, or any validity at all, for that matter.
Although many commentators are trying to apply the logic of normal political analysis to the election of the pope, the reasons that more cardinals to cast and shift their votes are not always susceptible to such considerations.
For example, Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis said at a press conference here last week that in August he had never even considered Albino Luciani of Venice, the eventual winner, until, "at a certain point, I experienced an invisible light shining in that direction." So, Carberry said, he voted for the man who become John Paul I.
One journalistic veteran of reporting around the Vatican recounted his conviction that he had managed to shift the vote of a cardinal who had been praising one of the septuagenarian candidates. The reporter said he told the cardinal, "I hear his health is not so good." The reaction, said the reporter, was a very upset look and a shockedsounding. "Oh, really?"
Carberry provided food for thought about the length of the conclave by noting that last time he took 10 chocolate bars in with his luggage and that he only had time to eat two of them. So, he said, he was only taking eight along with him this time.
It was decided on Friday that cardinals should not grant any more interviews about the conclave. Nevertheless, a decision was made to refrain from the previous practice of boarding up the windows of the rooms where the cardinals are confined during their deliberations.
There was also consideration of having someone call the Vatican press office as soon as a pope is chosen to avoid the kind of confusion that resulted last time when no one could make out clearly whether the smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney was black, dignifying an inconclusive vote, or white, for the naming of a pope.