Black smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel twice yesterday, signaling to the world that the college of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church had failed to elect a pope in its first day of voting for a successor to John Paul I.
The rules for eelcting a pope call for two votes in the morning session and two more in the afternoon. Ballots are burned twice a day to produce the smoke that tells the world whether a new pope has been chosen.
John Paul I, who became pope in August, was elected on the fourth ballot at the end of the first day of the shortest conclave since 1939. He died Sept. 28 after a reign of only 34 days.
The failure to name John Paul's successor in the first day's voting may be a bad sign for the chances of the two presumed front runners, Cardinal Giovanni Benelli of Florence and Cardinal Giuseppe Siri of Genoa. Cardinals who are strong in early voting but do not immediately gain additional strength traditionally wind up being counted out as it becomes obvious that they cannot rally a majority.
On a bright and sunny autumn Sunday, thousands of Roman family groups in the Vatican. Fathers carried small children piggyback, and balloon salesmen sold out their wares. Large numbers escaped the grasp of children and sailed colorfully into the blue sky over the Basilica of Saint Peter's. Hundreds of nuns in white, gray, blue, beige and black habits were in the square.
Several times, both at midday and in the floodlit late evening, the Sistine Chapel chimney put out puffs of white smoke along with the black. There was similar confusion in August when it was not clear whether the chimney was emitting white smoke to announce election of a pope or black to signal failure.
The Vatican had promised to do better this time by putting improved chemical mixtures into the stove in which the cardinals' ballots are burned.
This time, church authorities did make it possible for the Vatican press office to tell reporters within a few minutes what color the smoke was intended to be.The press office refused to say how it was getting its information, but since the conclave is locked away from direct contact with the outside world, it is presumed that a special telephone has been installed.
Never before has a conclave been held in such an atmosphere of prior electioneering.
"The only thing that was missing was campaign poster," said a cynical Roman.
The infighting among factions of the College of Cardinals was in sharp contrast to the appearance of unity seemingly genuine, at the conclave that elected John Paul.
An interview with Siri published by the Turin newspaper Gazzetta del Popolo on the eve of the conclave is making big waves. He was quoted in effect as criticizing the Curia, the government of the Vatican, for having written a speech for John Paul to deliver to the cardinals right after his election calling for "collegiality" or collective leadership of the church.
Saying he did not understand what the word "collegiality" could possibly mean, Siri clearly seemed to imply that the Curia was trying to turn John Paul into a weak pope whom it could dominate.
Siri spoke of Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958, as "great man and a saint" and said that the concept of continuity from papacy to papacy is nothing but ritualistic rhetoric. This comment was widely interpreted as a rejection of the liberalizing work of Pius' first two successors, John XXIII and Paul VI. John Paul, in his choice pledge to continue their work.
Siri denied that the conversation was meant to be a formal interview. The newspaper said that Siri had asked it to withhold publication until after the conclave was under way. An aide of Siri reportedly said that its publication a day earlier was clearly intended to torpedo his papal candidacy.
Italian newspapers drew the conclusion that Siri's statements, coupled with theological articles in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, meant that battle lines had been drawn between those who want to continue the liberalization started by John XXIII at the Vatican II Council and the advocates of turning back the clock.