I clearly remember the day my History teacher, Mrs. Kunkle, took the time to explain to us about how the pope was elected. No one in my class was old enough to remember the 1978 three-pope-Year, having all been more concerned with Sesame Street and the like back then. When she was asked about it, Mrs. Kunkle spent the class period giving us a memorable history lecture, which I will retell with aid from the Internet. By the way, the Vatican has a pretty cool website.
If your shocked this starts with a History lesson, go to the back of the class.
1978 was known as the year of three popes (or the year Star Wars became a cult hit, depending on your age). Pope Paul VI died on August 6th, and his death wasn’t a surprise. Paul VI was elected pope on June 21st 1963, and had a pretty good run at it, when you look at things. By 1978, Paul VI was almost 80 (born September 26th, 1897) and wasn’t in the best health. Paul VI was also known as the pilgrim pope, which I suspect is because he, er, made a lot of pilgrimages.
Great. Now I have Chaucer in my head.
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
Okay, I feel better now. Back to popes.
On August 26th, 20 days after Paul VI’s death, John Paul I, nicknamed the Smiling Pope, was elected. Born in 1912, he was 66 and considered to be in decent health. John Paul I was the first pope to ever name himself after his two immediate predecessors (John XXIII and Paul VI). Then he died in his sleep of a heart attack on September 28th, a mere 33 days after being elected pope. By the way, the shortest papacy ever was Pope Urban VII: September 15, 1590 – September 27, 1590 (12 days). Of the shortest papacies ever, John Paul I’s was oddly the longest. After 33 days, they all seem to have pulled off at least a year. So go, John Paul I, for the longest shortest papacy!
October 16th, 1978 the College of Cardinals elected the “Polish Pope” John Paul II. For many people, Pope was synonymous with John Paul II. Hell, my whole ‘aware of non me things’ life has been John Paul II (if I call him JP 2.0 would you laugh?). John Paul II was a pretty balsy guy, and there’s this website for ‘True Christians’ which calls him a Heretic. Makes me smile. I rather liked the idea of a Pope, and I think that John Paul II did a couple good things for the Catholics, so props to him. He could have done more, but he’s one guy, he’s human, and he had a funky hat.
John Paul II was just about my grandmothers’ age (yes, both), so his death didn’t shock me. I mean, frankly, I’ve had the Pope on my Death Watch Pool for the last two years. Ironically, or not, my enclave of this game had ‘Pope or Reagan, not both’ as a rule. I had Regan for 4 years and last year switched to the Pope. In some way I think he owed me his death as an apology.
Anyway, John Paul II, at the time of my History class, had just visited the former Soviet Union (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), and established formal ties between Israel and Vatican. So hey, go Pope. I can’t remember why we asked this (probably we were going over Papal things in class and I asked ‘How do you elect a Pope anyway?’
As with many things Catholic, the intricacies of this stuff astounds me.
Jews have no ‘head Rabbi’ to whom we all agree is closer to G-d. Each community/synagogue etc has their own head Rabbi, but he’s not equivalent to a Cardinal or Pope. He (or she) is just the ‘dude’ who handles more shit than the others. To be crass about it. When he dies/retires, the community/synagogue picks a new one. It’s akin to ‘states rights’ since not every place does it the same way. So as I said before, this is all weird to me.
Back to the pope. Electing the pope has changed many times, and is the most organic portion of the Catholic Church that I’ve ever see. Supposedly Peter (oh, fine Saint Peter, aka Pope Peter I) set up a senate for the Roman Church, consisting of twenty-four priests and deacons. You can see the Roman influence there. Those 24 guys were the councilors of the Bishop of Rome and in charge of picking the next pope. There’s a bit of argument about how the pope was elected in days of yor, with some folks arguing that only the clergy could elect a pope until the 4th century. It’s hard to prove either way.
When Rome transmogrified into the Holy Roman Emperor (everyone sing ‘Istanbul is Constantinople!’), the Emperor shoved his foot in the door. The Emporers and later Kings of Italy were an irritant to the Church, to the point that they made a decree that if an election was disputed, a new pope had to be picked. The church was so displeased, that they’d go so far as to ignore decrees made by ‘royal’ popes. Who’d’a thunk that it was the church who wanted a separation between church and state!
Currently, the pope isn’t permitted to pick his successor (though he can, and has, hinted heavily that he favors certain folk, the Cardinals can ignore this as they see fit). The papal law was changed in 769 such that only the clergy could choose a pope, and the pope had to be a priest or a deacon. 1059, the rules changed again to the cardinal bishops picking the best men for the job, and then they called in the other cardinals and voted. This sort of reformation continued until today.
By the way, a cardinal is a dignitary of the second-highest rank, topped only by the pope. The Cardinals are of three ranks: cardinal bishops, cardinal priests, and cardinal deacons. There’s a whole bit to-do about that, but the part that delights me is the secret cardinal, aka the cardinals in pectore (or ‘in the breast’ if you’re a Latin geek). Only the pope knows who his secret cardinal is and he’ll tell no one, not even the cardinal! This is to protect the fellow, but seems wacky to me. At any time, the pope can make public a secret cardinal, but if the pope dies before outing the fellow, he’s no longer a cardinal. Which, yeah, okay. Still weird.
John Paul II named an in pectore cardinal, and when he died on the 5th, hadn’t outed the guy. His will, it had been hoped, would contain the name, but the identity of his in pectore cardinal followed John Paul II to his grave. This means that the person is not in line to become cardinal even if the persecution of Catholicism in his country were to cease. Unless the next pope picks him again which would be really bizarre. Of course, it’s akin to the radio show of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. How do you know his lips ain’t moving!?
The current rules state the pope has to be a male Roman Catholic. Doesn’t need to be a cardinal. Mind you, they all have been since 1378 (Urban VI). The College of Cardinals (which has no role other than to be in charge when the world is sans pope) picks the new pope. The pope can abdicate, but not many have. They go through a lot of hoops and ladders (swearing to pock the best person, etc, kicking people out of the room who aren’t cardinals, etc) and finally get down to business.
They vote and a two-thirds majority is needed.
Day One: One ballot. If there’s no pope, they keep voting. Days two, three and four involve voting twice in the morning and twice at night. They take a break on day five to pray for a day (Dear lord, help us figure out who the hell should be pope, amen). Day six is back to four votes a day, but if day seven gets to three votes, the senior cardinal bishop gives a speech. Day eight has the four votes, and day nine gets three. If they still don’t have anyone by that third vote, the fourth is for a simple majority rules.
For each vote that there is no pope, the votes are burnt in a special fireplace and oil is added to make the smoke icky, thick and black. If there is a pope, the smoke is white and bells start ringing.
The pope-to-be is asked if he wants to be pope. He can say no, but I can’t find any record of anyone doing so. If the pope-elect is already a bishop, he immediately takes office. If not, he has to become a bishop. So a priest gets ordained a bishop, and a layman would get ordained first a priest and then a bishop.
Next, the pope picks his name. Since 535 this has been the law, and the first pope who did it was John II (birth name of Mercurius aka Mercury aka Hermes, and yeah, I’m with him on that being inappropriate). 1555, Marcellus II was the last pope to reign under his baptismal name. Once the name is picked, people start coming into the formerly secret time chamber to record the acceptance, name, etc of the new pope.
The pope heads into the “room of tears”, picks a robe (there are only three sizes of white robes, so I really want to see a tall, skinny pope in a short, baggy robe!). Once he’s popified, the pope comes back, gets his ring, the cardinals bend the knee, and the senior Cardinal Deacon appears on a balcony to announce the new pope.
I really want to have a webcam (call it VatiCam) pointed at the chimney and balcony, to show it real time to the world. Charge $5 to view and I’m rich!