Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope by only a small margin and only after the Italian cardinals became too sharply divided to agree on a candidate, according to reliable church sources.
The exact numbers of votes are not available, as the 111 cardinals and the persons who were locked in the conclave to serve them are sworn to keep that secret on penalty of excommunication. At the conclave, a majority of 75 was needed for election.
According to the church sources, Wojtyla's was not a name that emerged only on Monday, the second and final day of voting. He kept getting a few votes all day Sunday and kept increasing his strength as the attempt to create a convergence on the name of an Italian kept foundering on the Italians' internal divisions.
Although the church sources insist there was no bloc voting, Wojtyla's acceptability to the Americans and West Germans seems to have been crucial to his election.
A prelate who knows the Italians well said that anger was written all over the faces of Cardinals Giuseppe Siri and Giovanni Benelli, the two front runners, and of other Italians cardinals when they came out on the balcony of St. Peter's Basflica after the election of Cardinal Wojtyla was announced.
Wojtyla's election was reported by the church sources to have been opposed by some of the most important Italian cardinals, but the 26 Italian votes were said to have been hopelessly scattered among four or five Italian candidates in the course of the four ballots on Sunday. The sources said the victory came on the eighth ballot.
The newspaper La Stampa reported that some foreign cardinals told their Italian colleagues in effect: "With your divisions, you do not deserve the papacy."
There is skepticism that cardinals would address each other in such unchurchmanlike language but Cardinal John Carberry of St. Louis expressed somewhat similar thoughts, albelt far more delicately, in an interview:
"I really and truly feel he was the man of the hour. I think it was wonderful of the Italian cardinals to make that sacrifice," he said, adding that Wojtyla was one of three cardinals he had in mind as a good pope when he went into the conclave.
Describing the scene in the Sistine Chapel when the cardinal designated to read out the names on the ballots reached 75 for Qajtyla, Carberry said the cardinals broke into applause. The cardinal-tallyman finished reading out the votes.
When Wojtyla was asked whether he accepted, Carberry said he paused for a long time. "It was so long that I began to be afraid he might say no," said Carberry.
Wojtyla then, said in Latin, "Knowing the seriousness of these times, realizing the responsibility of this selection, placing my faith in God, I accept."
Wojtyla was then asked what papal name he wanted to take. Carberry said the new pope thought for a long time again, and said, "Because of my reverence, love and devotion to John Paul and also to Paul VI, who has been my inspiration and my strength, I will take the name John Paul."
Although Wojtyla was not well-known to the general Western public, he was to his fellow cardinals. He had been on two extended trips to the United States, visiting 11 major cities. He had attended each of the five-month-long synods of bishops in Rome, since Paul VI named him.
Cardinal William Baum of Washington said that Wojtyla was far better known to his American colleagues than had been Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice, the last pope. Baum recalled that he had visited Poland in May and spent three days as Wojtyla's guest in his archidiocese of Krakow.
Wojtyla was also particularly well-known to the five cardinals of West Germany. He went on a tour of West Germany only last month.
Cardinal Josef Atzinger of Munich recently created a stir in church circles by expressing the anxiety of the German cardinals that the conclave might be subjected to leftist pressures to elect a pope favorable to "the historic compromise" between Catholics and Communists. Cardinal Atzinger voted that such a step would come just as fear is building in West Germany that there could be a return to Cold War conditions for the church following the deaths of the ailing Soviet and Yugoslav leaders, Leonid Brezhnev and Marshal Tito.
Wojtyla has demonstrated during his career that he was strong against compromising Catholic religious principles but willing to work out practical living arrangements with the Communist government of Poland.
A Vatican expert on Eastern Europe said that the primate of Poland, Stefan Wyszynski, known for his strong opposition to the government, had been unhappy over Paul VI's decision to name Wojtyla a cardinal and that the pope had nevertheless gone ahead because he wanted someone to balance off the primate's intransigence and to serve as a bridge to the government.
This Vatican expert noted that most of the Catholic bishops of Eastern Europe still have not accepted Pope Paul's policy of "opening to the East," adopted because he though it necessary for the church's survival. The expect said Wojtyla clearly was one of those who agreed with Paul.
Thus the new pope is ideologically in a middle group between churchmen who still preach intransigence toward communism and a group of Latin American bishops who preach "liberation theology" - an attempt to wed Christianity and Marxism.
One sign of Wojtyla's stance toward the Soviet Union may be the refusal of his aides to say whether he speaks Russian. His official biographies describe him as a brillian linguist, at home in Engllish, French, German and Latin. A Vatican official who asked a priest in the pope's immediate entourage whether Wojtyla speaks Russian, too, said he got the answer, "No pole speaks Russian, but everyone understands it."
A clear sign of Wojtyla's intentions will be whether he maintains or promotes Monsignor Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican's equivalent of a foreign minister and the executor of Paul's Eastern policies.
So far, Wojtyla has said he wants to keep all the major Vatican government positions open while he considers his appointments. His predecessor had immediately reconfirmed the whole Vatican government.
The new pope paid tribute again yesterday to Paul VI, this time for appointing a majority of non-Italians to the college of cardinals, giving it "a dimension taht was broad, international and intercontinental." Indirectly, it was also a thank you to Paul Vi for having made possible his own election.
Speaking to the cardinals yesterday, John Paul II said, "Venerable brothers, it was an act of courage to have same time, an act of courage to have wished to call a non-Italian to be bishop of Rome." He added, "In the church, no frontiers."
The new pope went on with statements suggesting that he thinks there may be hard times ahead for the church. "The scarlet you wear," he said, "is a sign of that faithfulness which you promised the pope in the solemn oath 'even to the shedding of blood.'"
He recalled a 16th century English cardinal beheaded for his faithfulness to the Catholic Church, adding, "Even in our time there are those who have not been spared and still are not spared from the experience of prison, of suffering, of humiliation for Christ."
Ironically, it was announced that this Sunday the head of the Anglican Church, Donald Coggan, would be the first archbishop of Canterbury to attend the installation of a pope since the two churches were separated during the Protestant reformation.