Black smoke billowed from a makeshift copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, signaling that the 115 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church eligible to vote for a new pope had again failed to muster majority support for a successor to Benedict XVI and that balloting would continue until they do.
A first vote ended inconclusively on Tuesday, and the inky black smoke a day later indicated continuing divisions in two subsequent ballots on Wednesday among the cardinals over what kind of pope they want to confront the pressing, sometimes conflicting, demands for change after years of scandal.
“It’s more or less what we expected,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said of the first three ballots. In relatively recent times, he said. only Pope Pius XII, whose papacy spanned World War II and lasted from 1939 to 1958, had been chosen on the third ballot.
Voting is set to continue on Wednesday afternoon and onward — with up to two rounds each morning and afternoon — until the cardinals reach a two-thirds majority of 77 votes.
At that point, white smoke will billow forth, telling the world’s one billion-plus Catholics that they have a new leader to take on the myriad challenges confronting their church. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will peal over the huge piazza of the same name to announce the election of Benedict’s successor.
In what was scheduled as the first full day of balloting since the conclave began on Tuesday, the prelates celebrated a morning Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace before voting in the Sistine Chapel under 16th-century frescoes by Michelangelo. Outside, on a rainy morning, pilgrims and sightseers sheltered by umbrellas began assembling early in case word of a new pope came sooner rather than later, hoping that the signal from the burning ballot papers would be unequivocal.
The crowd soon thickened, with many people staring toward the chimney with its simple cover or looking at it on huge television screens. Some closed their eyes and clasped their hands around rosaries in prayer.
At the last papal election, in 2005, the color was indeterminate in an early round, prompting confusion. But, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the smoke was unmistakably black.
Technology helped, too. By the time the first smoke emerged, at 7:41 p.m. on Tuesday, it was dark outside. But giant screens in St. Peter’s Square showed the smokestack clearly.
The Vatican has given details of how the black smoke is generated, saying that, since 2005, a secondary device alongside the traditional ballot-burning stove generates colored smoke from different chemical compounds. Both devices feed into stovepipes that join up as a single smokestack on the Sistine Chapel roof.
For black smoke, the Vatican Information Service said, the compound blends potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulfur. White smoke heralding a new pope comes from a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin, “a natural amber resin obtained from conifers.”
Before 2005, the black smoke was “obtained by using smoke black or pitch and the white smoke by using wet straw,” the Vatican said.
The inconclusive outcome of the early balloting had been widely predicted. No front-runner had emerged in the same way as in 2005, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to become Benedict XVI on the fourth round of voting.
For decades before his election, the average number of voting rounds was higher, around seven, while no conclave since the early 20th century has lasted more than five days.
Benedict resigned last month, citing failing powers and infirmity, the first pope to do so in six centuries.
That paved the way for the voting in the Sistine Chapel, whose secrecy shields the cardinals’ deliberations from outside scrutiny. But it is also designed to protect cardinals from earthly influence as they seek divine guidance.
Those influences seemed potentially acute on Wednesday for at least one cardinal elector inside the Sistine Chapel — Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles.
Even as the prelates weighed their options late Tuesday, news reports from California said the archdiocese, the cardinal himself and an ex-priest had reach a settlement of almost $10 million in four child sexual abuse cases, according to the victims’ lawyers.
The agreement offered eloquent testimony to the sexual, financial mismanagement and other crises facing Benedict’s successor.
Cardinal Mahony, who retired less than two years ago as the leader of the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the United States, was removed from all public duties by his successor, Archbishop José H. Gomez, last month as the church complied with a court order to release thousands of pages of internal documents that show how the cardinal shielded priests who sexually abused children.
His presence contrasted with the fate of Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who announced his resignation last month after being accused of “inappropriate acts” with priests and said he would not attend the conclave. The timing of his announcement — a day after news reports of alleged abuse appeared in Britain — suggested that the Vatican had encouraged the cardinal to stay away.
When asked about criticism of some cardinals by advocates for the victims of clerical sex abuse, Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the group SNAP — Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — was taking advantage of the attention focused on the conclave to reap publicity.
Prelates including Cardinal Mahony “have given their answers, have given their explanations,” he said. “These cardinals are people we should esteem” and they have the “right to enter the conclave,” he said.
Father Lombardi also said there were no plans for Benedict to attend the inaugural Mass of the new pope. As for the potential date of that ceremony, he said Tuesday — the feast day of St. Joseph — would be a “good hypothesis.” (Source; The New York Times)