- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Roman Catholic cardinals locked themselves in the Sistine Chapel yesterday to select a pope, but black smoke wafting from the chimney confirmed that their first vote failed.

One hundred fifteen cardinals from around the world gathered yesterday afternoon at the Hall of Blessings in the Apostolic Palace. Chanting “Veni Creator” (“Come, Creator”), they moved into the Sistine Chapel.

The cardinals, all younger than 80, will meet twice daily, seated atop a false floor hiding jamming devices to thwart electronic eavesdropping, until they elect a successor to John Paul II, who died April 2.

The “princes of the church” took an oath of secrecy before the Vatican master of liturgical celebrations, Archbishop Piero Marini, uttered the traditional Latin words “Extra omnes” (“Everyone out”), meaning only the voting cardinals could remain.

Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered under intermittently cloudy and sunny skies in St. Peter’s Square to watch for smoke signals from the Sistine Chapel chimney. The cardinals traditionally send black smoke to report that a vote has failed, and white smoke to tell the world they have chosen a ruler for St. Peter’s throne. A two-thirds majority is required in initial votes.

At 7:47 p.m. (1:47 p.m.EDT), smoke began billowing from the chimney. The first wisps appeared to be white, but soon dense black smoke churned out, provoking cheers from the crowd in St. Peter’s enjoying the unique election procedure.

Vatican watchers have predicted that the conclave would exceed the three-day session that preceded the election of Polish-born John Paul in 1978.

The cardinals of today are deeply divided between conservatives initially grouped around Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the late pope’s personal theologian, and liberals who initially supported Cardinal Dionige Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, Italy, or his predecessor in the archdiocese, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

Cardinal Ratzinger was seen as a pre-conclave favorite, but he failed to win support of the French delegation, and liberals from his native Germany joined forces with American cardinals to oppose him.

The failure to elect anyone last night was a further indication that Cardinal Ratzinger’s candidacy had faltered. Vatican sources had said he agreed to be nominated on condition that sufficient support could be mustered for him to achieve a quick victory, or what Roman newspaper Il Messaggero described as “a blitzkrieg.”

Smoke from a stove where chemically enhanced ballot papers are burned likely will be seen at about noon (6 a.m. EDT) and 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) on each day of the voting, said chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

To avoid confusion, a white smoke signal is to be followed by ringing of the Basilica’s bells to confirm a successor has been found to St. Peter, the first Christian pope.

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