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 Blooming Stars

Papal Dynamics – 4

            The last blow to the papacy came from the butler of Pope Benedict who leaked secrets related to the very inner workings of running the Catholic Church. The problems facing the Catholic Church are enormous and currently, beyond the critical stage, and require very urgent and effective solutions. These solutions have to come from the teachings of Christ as revealed in the Gospels. Many anti-Catholic speculations and gossips related to the resignation of the pope, unfortunately, are floating. I trust in the reasons that the Pope who will be 86 in April 2013 gave: “…My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Reports insinuate that by his resignation he might be also intending the eventual removal of some of the papal Curia who were out of control.

            The unkindest cut of all after his resignation was the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien amid claims of sexually inappropriate behavior with a seminarian and three priests. O’Brien who publicly acknowledged his sexual misconduct and apologized for the same was scheduled to attend and vote for the new pope as the only representative of the United Kingdom in the papal conclave due to meet in Rome in March 2013. As one of the 115 or 116 cardinals voting and being voted for, he himself could have been electable as a pope. Ironically, O’Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay and lesbian rights, denouncing plans for the legalization of same-sex union/marriage as “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved”. O’Brien’s resignation is all the more poignant in a Church rocked recently by sexual abuse scandal.

            There is not a single cardinal who has not been appointed by the conservative popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This is not the way to run a 1.2 billion strong Church that needs to be represented by a cross-section of people. The Church in its governance needs representation from traditional, conservative, progressive, and liberal quarters. No pope is entitled to pontificate God’s will. The election of a pope is done in a conclave. A conservative conclave is likely to produce another conservative pope. A notable exception in recent history was Pope John XXIII who did not think of being elected as he had a return ticket to Milan. The conclave, a locked in setting coming from the phrase cum clave (with a key) in Latin where the electors, cardinals below the age of 80, are secluded in the Sistine chapel of the Apostolic Palace, and are not permitted to leave the place before the pope was elected. In the last conclave they were able to leave the Sistine chapel for their living quarters nearby.

            They are forbidden to have any contact with the outside media. They are able to interact among themselves. Since 1970 only cardinals under the age of 80 could elect the Pope. Currently there are 115 such cardinals. A two-third majority of cardinals present is required for the election. Pope John Paul II changed the procedure, and required only a simple majority after the fourth ballot. Pope Benedict reverted to the previous procedure of two-third majority. No cardinal is allowed to canvas for himself or any other cardinal. The conclave begins in the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals celebrate a Mass for electing the pope in the morning. That afternoon, they begin the election process. They draw lots to select three members to collect ballots from the infirm, three to count the votes, and three others to review the results.

            After the ballots are duly marked they walk to the altar in order of seniority and make pledges to perform their duty with integrity, and drop the ballots into a chalice. The ballots are tallied, and the result is read to the cardinals. If a cardinal receives two-thirds plus one of the votes, he is the new pope. If there is no winner, a maximum of three more votes may be scheduled for that afternoon. Pope John Paul II was elected at the eighth ballot. Pope Benedict XVI was elected after the fourth. When a pope has not been elected, the ballots are burned with a chemical to produce a black smoke. When a pope has been elected the ballots are burned alone to produce a white smoke. The white smoke emerging from the chimney of the Vatican Palace will announce the election of the pope for those assembled in St. Peter’s Square.


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