Electors fail on first try
The 115 cardinals voted once but did not choose a new pope on the conclave's first day.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
VATICAN CITY -- The Sistine Chapel's lustrous wooden doors swung shut Monday behind the men who will elect the next pope, and wisps of black smoke, floating two hours later from the chapel chimney at dusk, indicated that the conclave's first vote had ended in stalemate.
That sliver of drama came after a conservative German cardinal who is expected to play a crucial role in the 21st century's first papal election mounted a stark defense of conservative religious doctrine during a morning Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, highlighting the differences over church doctrine and practices that are likely to be played out as the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church select their new pope.
The 115 cardinal-electors are expected to resume voting today, with two votes scheduled in the morning and two in the afternoon. Initially, a two-thirds majority of 77 votes is required for a candidate to prevail. If no agreement is reached in 12 days, the cardinals could shift to a simple majority vote.
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's sermon Monday morning reminded those watching that papal elections are also about practical, political matters, such as conflicting visions of how the church should be run.
In contrast to the gentle, engaging homily he gave at Pope John Paul II's funeral April 9, Cardinal Ratzinger, 78, offered Monday what appeared to be a stern denunciation of modern Western culture, portraying the Catholic Church as a "little boat of Christian thought" tossed about by waves of "extreme" ideologies that include "liberalism" and "radical individualism."
Cardinal Ratzinger has been portrayed as an early favorite for the papacy in Italian news reports this week, but even if that speculation proves false, he's likely to play an important role in the voting as a leader of the ultra-conservative wing of the cardinals. He has spent the last 25 years as the Vatican's theological enforcer, overseeing the disciplining of hundreds of priests and religious scholars who've strayed from acceptable Catholic teachings.
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," Cardinal Ratzinger said, "while relativism -- letting ourselves be carried away by any wind of doctrine -- is made to appear the only attitude acceptable in today's times."
The cleric added: "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
Relativism is the idea that criteria for judgment depend on varying circumstances, not any absolute truth.
It was nothing the cardinal hadn't said and written before, but never had he said it in front of such a large audience, in a worldwide television broadcast. He appeared to be reinforcing his vision of a church that must be tough-minded and unyielding in the face of threats from secular modernity.
As thousands of people packed the basilica for the morning Mass, the cardinals were arrayed around the altar, which is situated over what is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter and surrounded by four ornate, 90-foot-tall wooden pillars. Ratzinger's voice was hoarse, and he had to be helped down from the altar by a monsignor.
Earlier in the day, his brother Georg Ratzinger, 81, had expressed doubts about a potential Ratzinger papacy.
"Of course my brother is perfectly qualified, but he is too old for the job," the ordained Catholic priest told Knight Ridder by phone from his home in southwest Germany. "A more energetic, younger candidate should be chosen."
While many cardinals embrace Cardinal Ratzinger's thinking, he's a controversial figure for the moderate wing, including German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who on Saturday urged cardinals not to seek "to clone John Paul II."
"Let's not search for someone who is too scared of doubt and secularity in the modern world," he said.
Front and center
But Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, took the lead in Monday's proceedings. After standing as the principal celebrant in the Mass in the morning, he led the cardinals to the chapel in the afternoon and led his fellow clergy in swearing an oath to uphold the rules of the conclave, including strict secrecy about what goes on inside.
As they entered their secret conclave, cardinals representing 52 countries walked slowly in an elaborate procession from the Hall of Blessings to the Sistine Chapel, singing the Litany of the Saints. The image, broadcast live on television courtesy of Vatican cameras, reinforced the air of solemnity that surrounds the cardinals' task, which they believe is infused with the Holy Spirit.
As they made the short walk to the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo's richly colorful religious frescos awaited them.
, most of the cardinals were clad in flowing crimson vestments, except for two Eastern Rite prelates -- Lubomyr Husar of Ukraine and Ignace Moussa I Daoud of Syria -- who wore black.
As dean, Cardinal Ratzinger entered the chapel last.
The cardinals took their places behind their name placards. They then placed their red, three-cornered square birettas on the tables, leaving their crimson skullcaps on their heads.
After they took a group oath, they strode one by one up to a Book of the Gospels, each man placing his right hand on it and pronouncing a second oath of secrecy. Some minutes later came the signal.
"Extra omnes!" intoned Piero Marini, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, meaning "Everyone out!" He and Cardinal Tomas Spivak, the 87-year-old Czech prelate chosen to deliver an inspirational message, remained but would leave after the address.