I was with a BBC radio crew in St Peter's Square this afternoon when my old boss, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, passed by. The BBC presenter, Ed Stourton, sought to engage him in the kind of speculation that is the currency of almost every conversation at the moment in and around the Square: "So come on, cardinal, who should we be expecting to come out on that balcony?"
|Cardinals talk as they arrive for final |
general congregation meeting at Vatican
The cardinal, who is over 80 and so not allowed to vote, would not be drawn, but cheerfully obliged with a shared confidence. "They’re all telling me: siamo confusi – 'we’re confused,'" he laughed.
It seems they are.
Still no front runnerOn the eve of Conclave 2013, there is no clear front runner or pair of opposing cardinals around which the votes will coalesce. Judging by what cardinals were saying yesterday in off-the-cuff remarks, the list of papabili seems to range between half-a-dozen and a dozen. And they come from all over.
The Italian newspapers say, perhaps optimistically, that Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan is likely to attract 35-40 votes on the first ballot (77 are needed to reach a two-thirds majority); whether he can get more is in question. But there are many others likely to get votes in the first ballot. From the New World: the Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Brazilian Odilo Scherer of São Paulo, and the Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, as well as the Americans Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Then there's the Filipino, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
All of which suggests a long conclave. But there have been other conclaves that have begun with the field equally fragmented, and yet a pope has emerged, usually within two days. The era of short conclaves began with the two-day election of Pius IX in 1846; since then, the longest conclave has been the 1903 election of Pius X, which lasted five days. Typically conclaves have been two or three days: the 1922 election of Pius XI took 14 ballots; the 1939 election of Pius XII took just one day and three ballots.
In 1958, John XXII was elected on the 11th ballot (day 4), while Paul VI was elected on the sixth ballot after two days. The first conclave of 1978, which saw John Paul I elected, took just three ballots (although he insisted on a fourth to confirm it); John Paul II's election, just a few months later, was elected on the eighth ballot at the end of the second day. In 2005, Benedict XVI was elected on the fourth ballot – early in the afternoon of the first full day of voting.
The lengthy conclaves have usually involved blocks in conflict, facing each other down – but there is no such division this time. On the other hand, the short conclaves – those over within four ballots, less than a day – usually involve an "obvious" candidate.
So the best guess from here is that the conclave could be over by Wednesday afternoon (four or five ballots), but is more likely to run into Thursday: anywhere between six and 10 ballots.
Less than four ballots, and the cardinals are not as confusi as they've been letting on. But more than 10 ballots would suggest the confusione was very great indeed.
Austen Ivereigh, who is blogging for us daily from Rome on the papal transition, is a British Catholic journalist, commentator and director of Catholic Voices (www.catholicvoices.org.uk). A former communications director to the Archbishop emeritus of Westminster (England), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, he accompanied the cardinal to Rome in 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of "How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice" (OSV, $13.95).