Black Smoke Signals Pope Election Not Completed

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

April 18, 2005

Black smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel's chimney on Monday evening, April 18, signaling the cardinals inside had failed to elect a new pope during the first papal conclave of the new millennium.

The black smoke rising to the sky meant the 115 voting "princes" of the church, who have taken an oath of secrecy, would retire for the night and return on Tuesday morning to continue their search for a new pope.

"Catholics believe that once they're behind the closed doors, the holy spirit is among them, and so is human nature; and that means politics," said Father Gerald Fogarty, of the Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

If two morning ballots fail to produce a pope again, the cardinals representing six continents and 52 countries could hold two more votes Tuesday afternoon.

"But nevertheless, they can talk among themselves. They've already discussed this week with their general congregation, what are the needs of the church, and what are the most pressing things in terms of church administration. That's all they were allowed to do," added Father Fogarty.

During Monday's vote, a cardinal asked God to give the church, "a pastor according to his own heart, a pastor who guides us to knowledge in Christ, to his love and to true joy."

It was clear what type of pastor that should be, one who should not allow "a dictatorship of relativism"-- the ideology that there are no absolute truths, to take deeper root.

"He's far away, and there is 2600 bishops in the world. The pope can't possibly know everything about everyone of those diocese, so that's one issue of the ideological debate," Father Fogarty said.

The cardinals who will continue voting on Tuesday, April 19, will hold up to four rounds of voting--two in the morning, two in the afternoon--each day, until a candidate gets two-thirds support, or 77 votes. If no one is elected after three days, voting pauses for up to one day. If the cardinals remain deadlocked late in the second week of voting, they can vote to change the rules so a winner can be elected with a simple majority of just 58 votes.

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