It had been a week of intense if discreet politicking in the Vatican. As the 111 cardinals sealed themselves in the silent, secret world of the conclave for the second time in seven weeks, they may have been glad to withdraw from the cacophony of predictions and pressures. Halfway through the week, for example, Giuseppe Siri, 72-year-old Archbishop of Genoa, a noted conservative and veteran of three conclaves, overnight became the object of newspaper and radio stories that stressed his “social conscience” rather than his resistance to reform. Clearly, a “campaign” along U.S. convention lines was under way.
Siri prepared the groundwork himself shortly after Pope John Paul died when he said in a rare interview: “I am neither a progressive nor a conservative but an independent.” Some speculated the campaign was an effort to “burn him out” as one priest put it—he had been the conservatives’ solid first choice in the last conclave—before voting started. But others disagreed. Said Rev. Robert Graham, an acerbic Jesuit working in Rome for 12 years: “He has a lot of friends.”
In any case it wasn’t the only action in town. Better informed of the procedures, more at ease with their role as Pope-makers, many of the cardinals were unusually forthright about their choice, making this a much more open conclave than the last. Czechoslovakia’s Frantisek Cardinal Tomasek (“this time it won’t be an Italian”) pushed for an Argentinian of Italian descent, the progressive Edoardo Pironio. Brazil’s Braan Paulo Evaristo Arns said it was time for a Pope from the Third World and proposed 57-year-old Bernardin Gantin, the top-ranking black African in the Vatican.
Almost all the cardinals, fearing the world would be disappointed if the new Pope did not capture its hearts as quickly as John Paul, cautioned that the Pope must also be a “good administrator.” That opened the door for a curialist such as 57-year-old Giovanni Cardinal Benelli, now the Archbishop of Florence, but for years Pope Paul’s administrative right-hand man.
As for the papabili, several seemed aware that their image was a definite factor in their chances. Sergio Pignedoli, the powerful but progressive Vatican bureaucrat, usually a warm host to journalists, was suddenly refusing all requests for interviews. Inside the conclave, however, surrounded by voluptuous Renaissance paintings, sleeping on lumpy beds, shut off from telephones and alarm clocks, eating on long makeshift tables in the Borgia apartments, the cardinals at least had the quiet they needed for what many say is ultimately a “spiritual decision.” Basil Cardinal Hume of England likened it to “rowing against the wind on a lake.”
This time, however, the windows of the apartments had not been varnished and sealed, so that fresh air could waft through to the Sistine Chapel where the choice is formally made. Whatever the outcome of the deliberations, that change seemed to offer a symbol of a new openness that the new Pope is unlikely to ignore. Angela Ferrante
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