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Cardinals End First Day of Conclave Without Electing New Pope

April 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Father Thomas Reese, thank you again for joining us. So, today we saw the long-awaited puffs of smoke coming out of that smokestack at the Vatican, but it was black smoke, not white smoke. Tell us what that means.

REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, black smoke means that they had one vote tonight, but it was inconclusive. No one won the necessary two-thirds vote. Actually, for a while it looked like the smoke was white, and people were cheering. Then finally it came out very clearly to be black. So, tomorrow they’ll start voting again and they’ll have two votes the morning, two votes in the afternoon until — and they’ll keep going until they finally elect someone with a two-thirds vote.

GWEN IFILL: When we talk about cardinals voting, we’re not talking about the kind of voting we think about in American political conventions where there’s backslapping going on and votes being traded. It seems like it’s a much more discreet process?

REV. THOMAS REESE: Oh, it’s very different from the kind of election campaigns we have in the United States. For example, you know, you don’t go around shaking hands saying, “Vote for me; I’m the best man to be pope.” This would just be considered totally inappropriate, arrogant on the part of a man, and would show that he’s just unsuitable to be pope.

What does happen is your friends go around saying what a good man you are and how you would make a very good pope. And of course, it’s again, it’s not like an American election. There’s no campaign financing; there’s no buttons; there’s no TV ads. There’s not even any debates among the candidates. It’s a very unusual, low-key election.

GWEN IFILL: And the balloting I gather can go on for several days. We saw today that they didn’t reach the two-thirds they needed, but this could happen again tomorrow and the next day as well.

REV. THOMAS REESE: Absolutely. In fact, in the history of the church, we’ve had 30 conclaves that went more than a month. We had two in the 13th Century that actually went more than a year. No, we’re not expecting that to happen. I think that the conclave will probably go three, four days, not more than that. I think we may see someone elected by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

GWEN IFILL: And yet this is a very secret process. The other thing we’re all tempted to do is try to divine, as it were, what might happen next. Why the secrecy, and does it really hold?

REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, you know, I’m a journalist so I would like it to be totally open. I’d love to be in the Sistine Chapel and in the conclave and seeing what’s happening. I think the cardinals, however, are concerned that if, you know, if the politicking was very public, it could divide the Church. I mean, look at how much the United States was divided in the last presidential election. We don’t need that in the Church. At least that’s the view of the people in the College of Cardinals.

In a sense they’re like the owners of a restaurant. They want to invite you in and serve you a beautiful, delicious meal, but they don’t want you sticking your nose into the kitchen. And they certainly don’t want the restaurant critic sticking his or her nose into the kitchen. At the end of the conclave they’re going to come out with a pope. They’re going to stand united behind him. And they want the whole Church to be united behind him. And that’s much more important than having a lot of information about what actually happens inside the conclave.

GWEN IFILL: Father Reese, in today’s homily, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — and I want to use his exact words — criticized what he called radical individualism versus vague religious mysticism in the Church. And he talked about relativism as basically an evil, versus fundamentalism, which he described as clear faith. Is that a signal of the kind of pope that they’re searching for?

REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, clearly Cardinal Ratzinger is highly respected by the members of the College of Cardinals. And what he said today is consistent with what he’s been saying for years: His criticism of relativism, his criticism of agnosticism, of consumerism. There’s a lot of -isms that Cardinal Ratzinger is very critical of.

I think, though, that the cardinals are also looking for someone who can present a positive image and can use — can explain Christianity in a positive way to the people of the 21st century. And this is extremely important for the Church. I think we have to be not just against things but also have a message, a positive message, that we can bring to the people.

GWEN IFILL: So based on what we heard him say, and even with that kind of internal debate that you’re alluding to, is there anyway to be able to figure out who is — who are the cardinals who might fit the kind of bill that he was talking about today?

REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, I think that most of the cardinals would agree with what Cardinal Ratzinger said. Most of the cardinals, I think, really reflect the views of John Paul II. You know, after all, he appointed all but two of the cardinals who will be electing his successor. So, I think we’re going to see someone come out of the conclave very much like John Paul II. We’re going to see a lot more continuity than we’re going to see change.

For example, I think we will find the new pope will be very liberal on social justice issues, on issues of war and peace. Just like John Paul II, he’s going to be very strong, speaking for the poor in the third world, forgiveness of Third World debt, strong support for the United Nations, critical of the war in Iraq, against capital punishment. These are all positions that are to the left of liberal Democrats in the United States today.

On the other hand, on Church issues, on internal Church issues, on issues of faith and doctrine, I think we will see someone who’s more traditional. In other words, someone very much like John Paul II.

GWEN IFILL: And would you care to attach any names to that, that list of possibilities?

REV. THOMAS REESE: Well, I’m very reluctant to play Jimmy the Greek and predict the kind of person or predict the person that will be elected. I think we can talk about the type of person. I think it’s, you know, I don’t think it’s going to be an old man like Cardinal Ratzinger, nor do I think it’s going to be a young man. I think it’s going to be somebody 65 to 72 years of age.

Obviously he’s got to be multilingual. He’s got to know Italian. He’s got to know English and Spanish because he’s got to communicate to the people of the world. I think he’s got to be sensitive to issues all over the world. So he’s going to have a lot on his plate that he’s going to have to deal with.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let it be said I would never ask a man of the cloth to play Jimmy the Greek. Father Thomas Reese, thank you so much for joining us.

REV. THOMAS REESE: Thank you, Gwen.