Monday, April 18, 2005

What is the right way to celebrate the conclave?

As I write, the very last of the arrangements are being made and the Cardinals are about to go into conclave. The name, reminiscent of some alchemical instrument, is quite appropriate for a meeting veiled with Byzantine ceremony and Masonic secrecy. The very latest predictions hold that, if it is a quick result then we ought to expect Ratzinger to be the next Pope. As I have previously suggested, I do not think there is any point predicting what happens. Still, I should like to be privy to the toing-and-froing that will take place inside the Sistine Chapel over the next few days. The reports that leaked out from the previous conclave suggested that the struggle that led to the compromise solution of Cardinal Wojtyla was a tough one. The interesting thing is that this time the rules have been changed so a simply majority may turn out to be enough to elect a Pope whereas a two thirds majority was required previously.

I have been reading up on the way that Pope’s had been elected in the past and there is no single method used throughout history. The methods have varied radically depending upon the status of the church. The general tendency, however, seems to be one of centralisation and formalisation. Thus, at the very beginning, and for some centuries later, the people of Rome played a very big and sometimes decisive role – a sharp contrast with the current situation where, so long as he lives long enough, the current Pope gets to pick all of the men who will choose his successor (from among themselves). When a Pope tried to name his successor the Cardinals protested against it. I guess the current system makes all the difference.

Perhaps I should do what I do after big sports matches and try to avoid finding out the result for as long as possible. Given the choice of available candidates this competition is almost as meaningless. My problem is that, while realising this, I find myself fascinated by it – comparison to watching an accident in slow motion is, by now, a cliché but it didn’t get to be one by being inaccurate - a massive pile-up has been taking place over the last two thousand years.

To celebrate the conclave I will go outside into the sunshine, enjoy the fresh air, lie on the grass and look up at the empty sky – something none of the electors will get to do over the next while.


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