From the Desk of Father McCartney
As we arrive at the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the members of the College of Cardinals continue to meet in Rome in preparation for the election of the new pope. By the time you will read this, we should know the date of the opening of the “conclave” which will begin the actual voting process. That word has an interesting history.
Pope Clement IV died in 1268. When the cardinals met in Viterbo, Italy, to elect the new pope, there were divisions among the French and Italian cardinals, each group wanting the pope to come from their home country. The impasse lasted two years and nine months, the longest interregnum period in the Church’s history to this day. It was only brought to a conclusion when the good citizens of Viterbo, having had enough, locked the cardinals in, and then removed the roof from the building, exposing them to the elements. The townspeople did, however, periodically send in bread and water. Eventually, on September 1, 1271, Pope Gregory X (an Italian) was elected.
Interestingly, he was not even there. Nor was he a cardinal. At the time of his election, he was a papal legate (ambassador) in Palestine, fighting a crusade with Prince Edward “Longshanks” of England, who would later become King Edward I (the king depicted in the movie Braveheart). When informed of his election, he immediately departed Palestine, but it took the new pope three months to get back to Italy.
Pope Gregory, wanting to avoid a repetition of the farce that resulted in his own election, issued a papal bull in 1274 outlining rules for future papal elections. In the document entitled Ubi periculum, he decreed that in future the cardinals should be locked in con clavis (“with a key”), and not permitted to leave until a new Pope had been elected. And so that is why the election of a new pope is said to be done in conclave to this day.
For the best live coverage of and commentary on the daily events regarding the conclave and the election of the new pope, go to EWTN at channel 135 in our area.