The Discordant Conclave

The inside story of the deeply divided Conclave and the election of Karol Wojtyla who got just a single vote on the first ballot.

Gian-Carlo Zizola

The first statements of the Cardinals after the news that Pope John Paul I had been found dead in bed at dawn on September 29 expressed much more than the normal condolences.

Everyone of them felt alarm that the splendid equilibrium that had been achieved during the stormy conclave of August 26 had been completely overrthrown and the dream of a long and peaceful execution of the compromise reached then between the conservative and reforming wings of the Sacred college had evaporated,  

For several days, Rome was drenched in torrential downpours. Hundreds of thousands of men and women, mainly from the poorest sections of society, filed in a long queue hour after hour through the Clementine Hall to see the Pope laid out on a grey catafalque cloothed in a red velvet chasuble, his mitre on his head, stretched below a simple wooden crucifix. He had lived a mere 33 days in those splendid Renaissance Vatican apartments, and many recalled that he had been abandoned by the offficials of the Roman Curia, disconncerted by his simple human style and early demonstrations of independence.

He had indeed refused to accept automatically the instructions of' the Curial officials and on September 24, barely four days before his death, he had declared in an address to the clergy of the city of Rome that it was his desire to be above all the Bishop of the City, expressing in a' new way the traditional prerogatives of the Roman Papacy. He had refused to be crowned and for the first time, the official ceremony to open a Pontificate had assumed a simple pastoral form, as he was invested with the bishop's pallium instead of the tiara, the ancient symbol of the spiritual and temporal powers of the Papal Monarchy. He was indeed convinced that the Papacy must assume a spiritual form innstead of a worldly one and in this John Paul I had soon found himself ill at ease faced with the usual scheming of the Curial.

"Everyone of them speaks badly of the other," he had confided on the day to a priest friend. "If they could, they would even speak ill of Christ Himself. I'm now beginning to understand things

I had never understood before." '

After his election he had passed a sleepless night as if he regretted having accepted the office. Relatives who came to visit him' a week afterwards could no longer recognise in this deeply saddened man, devoid of trust, the smiling optiimistic Luciani of the first days of the Papacy and in the photographs that had made him very quickly a reassuring and beloved figure in the' whole world. A prelate had removed from his breast the crucifix that his mother had given him when he was a boy to replace it with a golden cross, "more fitting for a Pope", and the Curia had compelled him to use the Sedia Gestatoria during "'l his public audiences.

It is probable that the conservative , elements that had elected him were beginning to think that his behaviour did not, at least in their view, corresspond to the understandings reached at the election. The compromise that had been worked out in the 'Conclave on August 26 had been largely the work of Cardinal Benelli of Florence. Assuurances were given that Luciani, as Pope, would guarantee both the demands of the progressives for the development of the collegial government of the Church in union with the bishops, and also the demands of the conservatives for the restoration of discipline in doctrine and authority within the Church.

In fact, the agreement had been built on a very tiny platform, leaving careefully aside several problems likely to cause controversy, chief among which would be the evolution of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The name of Luciani also represented for the conservatives a coming together of the Church, a reinforcement of the instituution, and a new cohesion of the internal forces and traditional energy within the Church. As the French Curial Cardinal, Gabriel Garrone, declared, the criterion that had guided the choice of Luciani for the Papacy was precisely that there would be the ebbing of the tide: "the church needed to turn back after the upset following the Council, and take time to reflect."

Every plan had been thrown into utter confusion by the death of the Pope - "it is a moment that imposes a limit on us and conditions us," said Benelli. Francoise Marty, the Archhbishop of Paris declared, "the ways of the Lord are throwing over all human planning." The African, Bernard Gantin, the first black face to preside over a Curial Commission, did not hesitate to acknowledge, "The cardinals have been thrown into disarray and they are seekking a way forward in the dark."

Now a new electoral phase was beginnning which every Cardinal arriving in Rome recognised as being more difficult than the other one, either because there had not been sufficient time to look well ahead as during the reign of Paul VI, or because it had to be admitted that the agreement reached in August had been almost "miraculous" and could hardly be repeated. Everyone sinncerely praised Luciani, declaring that the style of Papacy that he had set would have a decisive influence on the choice of the new Pope.

Yet various currents in favour of some revision were emerging from oppoosing schools of thought among the Carrdinals. The leader of the conservative wing, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, said, "In the name of realism it must be reecognised that the Church is not governned merely by a smile nor even with obvious manifestations of humility and simplicity." Meanwhile Cardinal Koenig, the Austrian: Primate, declared that the death of Luciani implied "the need to reduce still more the great burden that has been placed upon the holder of the office by delegating some functions of the Papacy in some way, as the limits of human physical endurance cannot be overcome."

It was clear that rumours were hintting that the death of Luciani was partly brought on by his inexperience of the Curial machine, and his political immpotence, and that he was meeting defeat in his effort to play the role of a "simple pastor" and putting the Papacy in a new dimension. This was recognised by. the progressives. Many of their spokesmen tried to defend the value of the 30 days appearance of Luciani in the Vatican by showing the popular welcome that it had' received. They took pains to point out that this could not be set aside and no one could pretend that it had never happened because it had speeded up the end of the "Pope-King."

However, the new Cardinals from the Third World and from central Europe had to admit that it was not sufficient to look for an imitation Luciani and that the new candidate would have to have something extra: administrative capacity, ability to control the Curia, political experience and good health. The electrocardiagraph had now become an important factor in determining the choice as the one thing that everyone feared was another brief reign in the Church.

The majority of the electors were still firmly fixed on the idea of searchhing for a Pope from among the Italian Cardinals who were resident diocesan bishops, although the theory that the Pope need not be an Italian was being put forward more insistently than it had been in August. Cardinal Jubany Arnau, of Barcelona, had stated this openly on his arrival in Rome, the Brazilian Arns had indicated that he would quite cheerrfully choose a candidate from the Third World, and the Czech, Frantisek Tomasek, Archbishop of Prague, had said, "Nationality is not a major connsideration, I think that the time has arriived for a non-Italian Pope. It would be fitting that a man from Latin America with its Catholic majority should be chosen."

Yet no one was yet prepared to grant the slightest possibility of a foreign canndidate. In the preceding Conclave the name of Woytyla had come up but he had received only a handful of votes. The first pre-electoral meetings showed that, in spite of their experiences during the August Conclave, the "foreign" Carrdinals had arrived without agreement on a single candidate of their own and were still depending on initiatives from the Curia faction.

It was in fact the conservative groups who were showing the greater decision. They were to freeze the compromise reached in August and ever shifting it to the right, by means of rallying round the candidature of one of their own men. In order to avoid having the prevvious agreement subjected to discussion, they quickly made sure that the Connclave should be convened at the earliest possible date.

In all the homilies preached in memory of Luciani, the Cardinals and prelates from the Curia praised his gooddness and his smile, carefully avoiding the part of the programme favourable to reo form. The Under-Secretary of State reo called only the warnings issued by Luciani regarding discipline and obeddience. Cardinal Pericle Felici praised hi> "smile of love that suffered", and the Cardinal Deacon, Carlo Confalonieri, ignored completely the task undertaken by Luciani to develop the Synod of Bishops when he preached the solemn panegyric in Saint Peter's. "It will be a short Conclave, indeed extremely short," declared Confalonieri, in an interview on October 8.

This was considered a clear sign that an agreement had already been reached on a winning candidature, which was believed to be that of Cardinal Siri, reecognised as one of the leaders of the conservative minority at Vatican II where he had fought against reform. He had received 25 votes in the first ballot on August 26, votes which had later been transferred to Luciani,

From the beginning to the end, the electoral scene of the second Connclave of the year was dominated by the Archbishop of Genoa. On October 1, he gave an interview to the Socialist newspaper, Il Lavoro, in which he said that he was a man who walked alone and did not form part of any group and that he would like to be considered neiither conservative nor progressive, but presented himself with an independent image. He had also sketched out a flexxible .programrne: "to defend the purity of the doctrine of Christ, to defend the Christian law of life and the internal discipline of the Church, which are very badly combined, But the greatest prooblem is to prepare the Church of today to face the huge changes that are taking place in the world." When he arrived in Rome he had praised Luciani before the Cardinals in the first of the nine days mourning ceremonies and he had tried to reach an agreement with the stronggest element in the Curia led by Cardinnal Felici. Rumours, which are impossible to check, are circulating in Rome that Siri tried to take soundings among the group headed by Cardinal Benelli.

At the beginning of the final week before the opening of the Conclave, Siri's candidature seemed so strong that the progressive circles were seriously alarmed. They declared that the Gerrman Cardinals had rallied in his favour and that would mean that he had an overwhelming force on his side.

One of the most powerful influences on the initiative of the Roman Curia, on the missions and on the Church in geneeral is that of the Cardinals from Central Europe, especially the Germans. While the Holy See is in financial difficulties the German hierarchy is in a strong financial position based on the strongest currency in the world. Cardinal Hoeffner, Archbishop of Cologne, had proudly declared at the beginning of October that the resources of his diocese were stronger than those of the whole of the Vatican. It was not by chance that Italian right wing newsspapers said that the crisis in the finanncial affairs of the Vatican was high on the agenda. The headline of one of those newspapers read "The new Pope must be a good businessman", in order to impress the electors coming from the Third World.

It is in fact the German bishops who supply the greatest financial support for the empty coffers of the Vatican and for the impoverished Church of Latin America; which obviously gives the German Cardinals a dominating influuence on the Catholic hierarchy of that continent. Such an influence was also closely tied to demands emerging from German Catholicism, favourable to European unity and based on the ideollogy of a "Christian Europe", and hostile to any real dialogue or understanding with Marxism and Euro-Communism.

On October 8 the Cardinal Archhbishop of Munich, Josef Ratzinger, inndicated in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that it was his conviction that the new Connclave would find itself subjected to "pressures from the left" which would look for a Pope favourable to the "hisstoric compromise", i.e. the participation of communists in the Italian government. So it was, paradoxically, that one of the most influential theologians in the Church (Ratzinger) introduced this political criterion into the choice of a new Pope.

The position that he took up in this way caused alarm among the electors who had learned from circles within the Curia of the possibility of an early crisis in the extension of the Church's opening towards the East and an acute phase in the relations between the West and the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. In such an eventuality it would be necessary for the Church to be led by a Pope capable of defending the Church itself and the whole of the West.

At the same time, on October 12, the Vatican Weekly pointed out the possiibility of a Third World War breaking out during the next Pontificate. On the same day in the Osservatore Romano an article appeared by Cardinal Siri praising Pius XII on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Meanwhile, political terrorism in Italy was claiming new victims and the Christian quarters of Beirut were being bombarded. Everything seemed to be converging in favour of a defensive bloc and strong leader.

The innovating Cardinals had to reecognise that the conservative offennsive had for all intents and purposes shattered the agreement reached in August by radically changing the posiitions. It was no longer possible to immagine the unanimity of August 26 being reached. What was really now brought into play was the future of the reforms emanating from the Council. On Weddnesday, October 11, some of the more important electors took part in a secret meeting to respond to the "Grand Alliance" that had been formed around Siri.

Among those present were the French Cardinals Marty and Gouyon, the Brazilians Arns and Lorscheider, the Italians Pappalardo and Colombo, the Belgian Suenens, who had already had contacts with the Germans, and the Senegalese, Thiandoum. They were tryying to construct a coalition strong enough to block Siri. They circulated to all the electors a dossier of stateements against religious liberty, liturgical reform and episcopal collegiality made by Siri during the Council.

The leading candidates in the list of the reformist group were Benelli, Poletti, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, and Colombo, the Archbishop of Milan. They passed first from one to the other and if they still lacked success the proogressives were prepared to take the innitiative to seek the support of the Gerrman group in which there were men like Ratzinger who had fought against the positions taken up by Siri during the Council and who .rnaintained close links of friendship with Benelli.

The former Under-Secretary of Pius VI, Benelli, could certainly count on a solid platform of consensus built by the French electors', some Germans, a group of Latin Americans and several Africans. At the beginning of the electoral "campaign" he sta ted "It is necessary to carry out and complete the work of reeform begun by the Council because it is the Council which has prepared the Church to face the problems of the next century." During a rapid tour through Rome he had met the French bishops and several from Latin America and Africa, among whom was Gantin.

Cardinal Koenig of Vienna kept apart from all this and he was probably prepaaring the way for a non-Italian candidate in the case of the failure of Italian canndidates, which seemed to becoming more likely. Rumcur has it that the seccret candidate of the Austrian Archhbishop was the Pole, Wojtyla , who had also been assured of the support fo the American of Polish origin, Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

During the last days before the Connclave, furious and bitter arguments raged. It was clear that the total lack of a preliminary agreement between the opposing groups made prediction of the outcome uncertain, perhaps even surrprising, and the Conclave would be lonnger than had originally been expected. On the evening of Friday, October 13, L 'Osservatore Romano came out in favour of a Pope Who would undertake to develop collegiality, participation of the laity and ecumenism.

On the following morning, a few hours before the Conclave opened, the Cardinals were able to read in the Gazietta del Popolo an interview with Cardinal Siri' containing an explicit attack on the reforms of the Council and particularly on the idea of episscopal collegiality. The image of "the man of continuity" and independence that Cardinal Siri had fried to construct was dealt a mortal blow. It was intennded that this interview which showed him in his' true colours should appear when the electors were already locked inside the Conclave and' could not read it. Well-informed sources attribute the leak to Benelli who was given a tape of the interview by a journalist friend and he made sure that publication was advanced before the opening of the Conclave.

On Sunday, October 16, the Connclave knew the strength of the two leading candidates, SiP and Benelli. In third place, Cardinal Felici also appearred on the first ballot.

Cardinal W ojtyla had received only one vote and it seemed that the outtcome would rest among the Italians.

Yet, even after Felici's votes had been transferred to Siri, it appeared that a stalemate had been reached. Neither of the two leading contenders had any intention of giving way and no third compromise candidate was emerging. "On the first day," Cardinal Marty said, "we tried to find out whether we were going to Italy or not." The fourth round of voting had not provided any way out.

On the morning of Monday, October 16, the votes were scattered among seveeral Italians (Poletti, Ursi, Felici and esspecially Colombo) in an effort to find a compromise candidate, but the Siri group which evidently had at least 40 votes and therefore could control any movements in favour of a third Italian as a compromise remained solid. There were 111 electors and the successful candidate would have to receive at least 75 votes, which was two-thirds plus one.

The log-jam of the Conclave was broken at midday on Monday after the failure of the fifth and sixth ballots. Cardinal Koenig is credited with taking the decisive initiative in putting forward the name of Wojtyla. The Polish carrdinal was well-known and much esteemmed by his colleagues. He had been preesent throughout the Council and at all the Synods of Bishops by whom he had been elected with increasing majorities as a member of the permanent secretaariat of the Synod. He was a convinced supporter of collegiality and reform. He was relatively young, 58, but the age barrier had been broken by the candidature of Benelli, who is only 57. .

As it was clear that the division among the Italian candidates could not be overcome, the way was now open for a non-Italian candidate. Wojtyla had undertaken several journeys in France, Belgium and Germany where he had taken part last September with Cardinal Wyszynski in the German Bishop's Conference. Twice during -the last few years he has spent fairly lengthy periods in America as a guest of the American Cardinals. He also travelled in Australia, in the Philippines and penetrated New Guinea to meet the aborigines.

He was known as a man who had fought communism on the religious and cultural levels, as one who had a close knowledge of the theory and practice of Marxism and also very clear ideas on the materialistic capitalism of the West. Strict in theology, he had shown his soundness of doctrine at many connferences at which he had also shown his constant attention to developments in modern culture. Thses were the chief arguments put forward in favour of his candidature in the Conclave.

They succeeded in making the breakthrough. The French, Germans and Americans were the first to support this solution. Cardinal Benelli released his parcel of votes in favour of him and that made him say to Cardinal Marty, "I have been struck by the readiness of all the Italian Cardinals, without exxception, to look towards a non-Italian Pope." Of course, that does not mean that all the Italians voted for him as all informants are agreed that the vote gathered by Wojtyla on the eight ballot on the evening of Monday, October 16, only exceeded the required two-thirds by a small margin.

The election of the first non-Italian Pope since Adrain VI, the Dutchman from Utrecht, who was Pope for a few months in 1522 and 1523 was evidently the result of two factors operating toogether: the powerlessness of the Italian' group, which had given an unedifying spectacle of division, and the decision of a majority of the Cardinals to support renewal within the Church.

This choice made the Second Connclave of 1978 something more precise and determined than the "compromise" of the preceding election the soundings taken among the Cardinals for or against the Council had been resolved with a clear affirmation in favour of the Council. At the same time, it revealed the comparative isolation of the connservative position in the highest ranks of the Catholic Church. It was the outtcome of the gradual evolution that had been noted under the Pontificate of Paul VI: the internationalisation of the College of Cardinals, in which the Italians, at one time predominant, had become a minority of 26 out of III electors and the bloc of non-European candidates now overwhelms the Cardinnals drawn from the Old World.

On the other hand, the development of the relations inside the Catholic Church is taking place horizontally, to replace the age-old vertical relationship. The hierarchical structure of Pope - Bishops - People, has been progressiively evened out by a structure of horizontal relationships between local Churches scattered over the five conntinents, as well as by the frequent meetings of episcopal conferences and the Synods of representatives elected from the conferences, which meet every three years. All that has favoured the advancement of Christian communities in coming to terms with present culltural reality and the problems of the people, while at the same time graduallly detaching the Church from the "Holy Alliances" with secular states.

The election of Karol Wojtyla is part of this historical development of the Catholic Church. On the evening of the white smoke, when he appeared on the balcony of the Vatican Basilica, few among that extraordinary crowd which was gathered round Saint Peter's Square, "the centre of the world", could claim to know him.

Yet he was not unknown to the Carrdinals. They knew the man they had just elected would be the first Pope born after the October Revolution, and the first one to have worked in a factttory, directly experiencing the workers' condition, as he did so during the years of the Nazi occupation of Poland. He had become a priest at the age of 22 and had undertaken his first theological studies in secret, in the house of the Archbishop of Cracow, Sapieha, one of the greatest personalities in the Polish resistance to Nazism.

The young Wojtyla had taken part in the anti-Nazi opposition, appearing in the clandestine theatre of Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk and joined in the moveements of Catholic intellectuals in Cracow who were reading the most

progressive authors of French Catholiccism, such as Emmanuel Mounier and Eyves Congar. His appointment as bishop in 1958 symbolised a change in the Polish Church, which at one time had been mystical and ultrative, but was now obliged after the XXth Congress to face the power of socialism in the social field while acting exclusively from a religious position.

When Paul VI named him Archhbishop of Cracow in 1964, Wojtyla opened his house to meetings of writers, philosophers, theologians and actors, trying to draw together the world of intellectuals and that of the workers while opposing the communist regime in the name of human rights. After the great strikes of 1976, the Polish bishops, innfluenced by Wojtyla , had come out for the first time against repression of the workers and in favour of democracy. But at the same time Wojtyla had protested against the alienation of man brought about by the "Atlantic" civiilisation, and provoked by the suborrdination of man to the primacy of the economic order and process which reeduces man to a mere instrument of prooduction.

Many might think that the first Pope from the East placed in the moral heart of the West could have been chosen to provide the Atlantic bloc with a kind of spiritual "neutron bomb", armament for the mobilisation of the antimunist West. Yet the first acts of the new Pope have given to his election the significance of a contribution to the process of integration of cultures that is taking place in the world. And he has called for an opening of those previoussly closed ideological, political and economic systems.

As for the Catholic Church, he has solem1y undertaken to set in motion a plan of reform more advanced than is set out in the documents of the Council, with a special role for the development of the participation of the bishops in the government of the Church and of the laity in decisions. That has irritated the conservative leaders so much that Cardinal Siri, immediately after leaving the meeting where the new Pope had outlined his programme, when asked about it, said "I do not remember."

Certainly the opposition the new Pope can expect to meet inside the  Curia and outside in carrying out his programme is still strong and, from this g point of view, the Conclave had hardenn~ ed positions, making a real understandd'" ing among the top levels of the Catholic hierarchy more difficult. This is the first problem that John Paul II will have to face, as it is impossible to imagine that a new series of reforms can be carried out without a broad consensus, unless one is prepared to accept a rupture such as that of Monsignor Lefebvre.

The new Pope has the advantage of the favourable impression created by his first acts and the feeling of security that he has given by acting independently and in a non-conformist spirit to the rigidity of the Vatican. He has shown during his address at his inauguration that the method he intends to follow to resolve the crisis in the Church is by a great appeal to concentrate on the essentials of the Christian Faith, leaving . aside all unnecessary discussion and argument. It is believed in Rome that he could become the Pope of a new Counncil marked with the figure of Christ and therefore more radical than that of 1962-1965.

In the normal span of human life, his Pontificate could run a long course, even to the end of this century and it 'promises the possibility of a developpment of the ecumenical movement which might even bring about some parrtial reunion of Christians. Finally one of the most urgent problems of this Papacy is the critical position that he has allowwed to the Church in its relations with the secular powers. For a long time Karol Wojtyla has thought that a new age of martydom lies in wait for Chrisstianity in the modern world. As John Paul II, he has already shown that he is aware that, in spite of everything, this could help the Catholic Church to reediscover its essential nature, freeing it from all unnecessary considerations .•