On Tuesday at 13.00 CET (04.00 PST. 07.00 EST. 12.00 UTC. 16.00 MSK. 23.00 AEST), the world-famous Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, an outstanding shrine of Renaissance art, was closed indefinitely to the public in connection with the upcoming conclave, which will elect a new Pope of Rome. A message posted on the official website of the Vatican Museums indicated that in this period the Borgia Apartment, located on the floor below the famous chapel, along with its rich collection of religious art (Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art), would close to the public. The Sistine Chapel, decorated with frescoes by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, and other great Italian masters, is the centre of attraction for millions of tourists who annually visit the Vatican Museums. It was built in 1473-81 by the architect Giorgio de Dolci commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere.
Since the end of 15th century, the Sistine Chapel hosted the conclaves that elected the Pope of Rome. The first conclave in the Chapel was in 1492, which elected Rodrigo Borgia as pope, who took the name of Alexander VI. However, the Sistine Chapel became the formal site for the conclave only in 1996, when Pope John Paul II Wojtyła issued the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (The Whole Congregation of the Lord), which details all the regulations for a conclave. So far, the Chapel hosted 24 papal elections, whilst conclaves were held in the Vatican Palace 51 times. In addition, papal elections took place in Rome (outside the Vatican) 34 times, in Perugia, Viterbo, and Avignon, 5 times, in Naples, 2 times, and in once in each of Siena, Terracina, Velletri, Verona, Ferrara, Pisa, Konstanz, Anagni, Arezzo, Lyon, and Venice.
Italian newspaper La Stampa and its website Vatican Insider, which has a capable stable of Vatican experts, is creating a special blog dedicated to the conclave, and announced that it’d cost 1,000 dollars in order to access it. The demo version of the service, called “live broadcast”, covering the confidential meetings of the College of Cardinals concerning the conclave, is in the public domain. The creators say that the blog will publish material about the conclave and related events in Rome and the Vatican written by analysts, scholars, and experts in real time. At the same time, the proposal doesn’t specify how it’s going to obtain information about the conclave, since, according to Catholic tradition, the violation of conclave secrecy is punishable by excommunication. Not only the Cardinals, but the chief master of ceremonies, his aides, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the monks who hear the confessions of the prelates, and the medical staff take an oath to keep secret everything that they hear and see during the conclave, and not to use recording or technical devices. At the conclave, the cardinals can’t receive mail, or use telephones or other communication equipment. In 2011, Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli published in Vatican Insider the secret diary of the 2005 conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope. It described in detail the balance of power, the main candidates, the voting process, and the distribution of votes after each round, until the conclave elected a new pope.
According to Fr Federico Lombardi, the official spokesman of the Holy See, not all the cardinal-electors eligible to participate in the conclave to elect a new pope have arrived in the Vatican; he expects them all to be in Rome on Thursday. He stated that out of 115 “princes of the Church”, which will elect a new pope, only two aren’t at the Vatican. Lombardi said that the start date for the conclave isn’t set yet. On Wednesday, the cardinals held the fourth session of the general congregation in the new hall of the Synod of Bishops to discuss critical issues of church life on the eve of the conclave. Lombardi said that 153 people attended the meeting. He also said that two sessions of the congregation would meet on Thursday… one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
According to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (The Whole Congregation of the Lord), issued in February 1996 by John Paul II, the pope should be elected at a meeting of cardinals, none of whom should be over 80-years-old. Currently, the College of Cardinals has 208 members, of which only 117 are electors. Experts expect that in the March conclave will attract 115 cardinal-electors. According to a particular rescript motu proprio signed by Benedict XVI Ratzinger in June 2007, his successor will have to win at least two-thirds of the conclave’s vote. During his 11 February announcement about his decision to abdicate the papal ministry , Benedict XVI noted the need to convene a conclave urgently to elect a new Pope of Rome. Lombardi said then that that Catholics should have a new pope by Easter, which Catholics celebrate on 31 March this year.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi didn’t rule out that the Roman Catholic Church could have a new pope by Catholic Palm Sunday, which falls on 24 March this year. In answering reporters’ questions, Lombardi said, “Whether we’d have a new pope by Palm Sunday depends on the conclave. The general expectation is that it may well be, but that’s only a desire, not a certainty”. Lombardi also said that the College of Cardinals, which has to meet in March to elect a new pope, has “no hurry” in setting a date for the beginning of the conclave, noting, “They have an outstanding sense of commitment; accordingly, they’ll be thoughtful, earnest, and careful in preparation [for the conclave]“. Earlier Wednesday, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, said publicly that there might be a possibility of an enthronement of a new Pope of Rome by 17 March.
5/6 March 2013