Black smoke from chapel chimney: No pope yet

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 1:34 a.m.
Cardinals attend a Mass for the election of a new pope celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican on Tuesday. Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect the next pope, but nothing has been decided yet.
Cardinals attend a Mass for the election of a new pope celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican on Tuesday. Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday to elect the next pope, but nothing has been decided yet.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Black smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel chimney on Tuesday, signaling that cardinals had failed on their first vote of the papal conclave to choose a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and their troubled church.

Surrounded by Michelangelo’s imposing frescoes imagining the beginning and the end of the world, cardinals locked themselves into the chapel following a final appeal for unity to heal the divisions that have been exposed by Pope Benedict XVI’s shocking resignation and revelations of corruption and mismanagement in the Vatican bureaucracy.


Led by prelates holding a crucifix and candles, the 115 scarlet-robed prelates chanted the Litany of Saints, the hypnotic Gregorian chant imploring the intercession of the saints to guide their voting, before the master of liturgical ceremonies intoned “Extra omnes” or “all out” and closed the heavy wooden doors.

Outside, thousands of people braved cold night rain and packed St. Peter’s Square, eyes fixed on the narrow chimney poking out of the Sistine Chapel roof. They were rewarded some three hours after the conclave began when thick black smoke billowed out of the chimney, signaling that no pope had been elected.

The cardinals now return to the Vatican hotel for the night and resume voting Wednesday morning.

Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation has thrown the church into turmoil and exposed deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether they need a manager to clean up the Vatican’s dysfunctional bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.

The leading contenders for pope have fallen into one of the two camps, with Cardinal Angelo Scola, seen as favored by those hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, favored by Vatican-based insiders who have defended the status quo. Other names included Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican’s powerful office for bishops, and U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York.

Before Tuesday’s conclave a Mass was held at St. Peter’s Basilica for the general public and the cardinals. In an appeal, the dean of the College of Cardinals, retired Cardinal Angelo Sodano, called for unity within the church, asking the cardinal electors to put their differences aside for the good of the church and the future pope.

“Each of us is therefore called to cooperate with the Successor of Peter, the visible foundation of such an ecclesial unity,” Sodano said. He said the job of pope is to be merciful, charitable and “tirelessly promote justice and peace.”

He was interrupted by applause from the pews — not so much from the cardinals — when he referred to the “beloved and venerated” Benedict XVI and his “brilliant” pontificate.

Sitting in the front row was Benedict’s longtime aide, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who reported that Benedict was watching the proceedings from the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, according to a Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica.

For over a week, the cardinals have met privately to try to figure out who among them has the stuff to be pope and what his priorities should be. But they ended the debate on Monday with questions still unanswered, and many cardinals predicting a drawn-out election that will further expose the church’s divisions. The conclave proceeds in silence, with no formal debate, behind closed doors.

In his final radio address before being sequestered, Dolan on Tuesday said a certain calm had taken hold over him, as if “this gentle Roman rain is a sign of the grace of the Holy Spirit coming upon us.”

He said he at least felt more settled about the task at hand. “And there’s a sense of resignation and conformity with God’s plan. It’s magnificent,” he said during his regular radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

A group of women who say they are priests launched pink smoke from a balcony overlooking the square to demand female ordination — a play on the famous smoke signals that will tell the world whether a pope has been elected. Two topless activists from Femen were dragged away from the edge of St. Peter’s Square by police. Femen activists have previously protested the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage.

And in a bizarre twist, basketball star Dennis Rodman promised to be in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday in a makeshift popemobile as he campaigns for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to become the church’s first black pope.

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