A couple of years ago, to cheer myself up a bit, I drafted this piece, so as to have it at the ready in case something interesting happened. It then went on hold. But, since the admirable Ed Pentin has a book coming out marking up the odds on the front runners, I have decided to put this humble piece before you now.
I think I am among many who feel that the method of electing a Roman Pontiff has become disfunctional to the point of being calamitous.
The electorate ... the College of Cardinals ... Purpurati Patres ... once consisted, theologically, of the clerus of the Holy Roman Church. Although a man might be Primate of some great regional See, he took part in this election qua being the presbyter of a Roman titular Church ... or the Deacon of one of its Deaconries (remember that in the earlier centuries the Roman Deacons were very powerful men) ... or the Bishop of one of the suburbicarian bishoprics.
In formal terms, this system was structurally corrupted in the latter part of the twentieth century. S John XXIII decreed that all the members of this body should receive episcopal consecration; which sends out precisely the wrong message. (Benedict XVI only half-heartedly retreated from this mistake when he laudably restored the practice of the Cardinal Deacons wearing dalmatics.) And some of the Oriental Patriarchs were made members of the Order of Cardinal Bishops, again corrupting its essential character as part of the clerus Romanus. But perhaps these are pedantic details compared with the practical change brought about by the great increase in the numbers of this electorate.
No longer was the Sacred College a small group of perhaps twenty or twenty-four members who knew each other. In the sixteenth century (with another hike in the twentieth century) it became a large body in which forceful men with a flair for organisation, or a group who had plotted their tactics in advance of the Conclave, could ... organise matters. PF has stopped the Consistories at which, before this pontificate, the Cardinals could discuss matters together with Parrhesia. There are natural suspicions that he has done this because he wishes to restrict, in any way he can, the possibilities for realistic interaction between the members of the next Conclave. He wants a compliant assembly in which sharp men can fix another coup.
Nescioquis dicet: "But a long Conclave would be disastrous. Anything rather than that!"
Oh Yeah? Prospero Lambertini was so fortunately elected pope on 17 August 1740; his predecessor had died on the 8th of February. That is an interregnum of some six months. Was this disastrous? Does the Catholic Church cease to exist when she "has no visible Head"? Of course not. Given the august and Petrine Majesty, the God-given Primacy, of the Roman See, a long interregnum in that See might indeed weaken the Church Universal (some readers may feel that a good long inerregnum would, however, be prefereable to another disordered pontificate ... I couldn't possibly comment). But we surely need to believe that the Church, in all its essential functions, continues to exist during a papal interregnum. And, after the death of Clement IV in 1268, it was two years, nine months, and two days before Blessed Gregory IX was elected. And how do we juggle with the Great Western Schism and the adage Papa dubius Papa nullus? Moreover, during the earlier period known as the Pornocracy, although there was a formal succession of popes, they were men of infamous, depraved, and murderous natures; it is hard to resist the conclusion that the Universal Church was indeed deprived of the genuine exercise of the Petrine Ministry. A characteristic mode of papal succession in that period became the murder of one's predecessor. Unsurprisingly, it is still a matter of academic uncertainty which of those blood-stained Pontiffs is to be deemed "validly" to have secured the cathedra Petri.
In my view, the first sign that things are going well in the next Conclave will be ... if it turns out to be a very long one.
Why are Popes nowadays elected so rapidly? It is, surely, a function of the maudlin and sickly Personality Cult which has deformed and unbalanced the Catholic Church especially since the 1930s. Even when the Roman Pontiff was still the 'Prisoner in the Vatican', Eugenio Pacelli invented, as Cardinal Secretary of State, the idea of a quasi-papal travelling circus framing himself ... from which he acquired the nicknames Il Vice-Papa, Il Cardinale volante. This phenomenon, so demeaning to the Local Churches, created a situation in which, at the next Conclave, he was elected pope on (was it?) the third ballot. And that is more or less where we are now. Adoring, febrile mobs jostle as they await the white smoke, while, inside the Sistine Chapel, the electors convince themselves that, once it is clear which way the ballots seem to be tending, it will Look Better to the Customers if matters are made pretty unanimous pretty quickly. Hence, the almost inevitability, nowadays, of the Two or Three Day Conclave.
If we had, say, a two-month Conclave, the crowds of excited tourists and giggling nuns might just possibly have thinned out a bit.
The modern two-day Conclave easily feeds into the gross and embarrassing superstition that popes are chosen by God Himself (probably God the Holy Spirit). When John Paul I was elected, I remember Cardinal Hume making a characteristically foolish remark: "For my part, he was God's Candidate". While the inscrutable designs of Providence are indeed beyond our reckoning, in human terms it did seem to me almost funny when 'God's Candidate' was so decisively snatched from us a mere month later. Despite Joseph Ratzinger's gently ironic but firm dismissal of this sort of nonsense, from here it was a straight line of development to today and to the pernicious errors of Bergoglianism. A central feature of this phenomenon is: the Pontiff is surrounded by cronies and sycophants determined to assure the world that he is the Voice of God, the Mouthpiece of the Spirit. And, possibly blasphemously, references to the "Holy Spirit" and to his close associate "the God of Surprises" are used to shortcut the normal and wholesome (if often lengthy) processes by which the Petrine See had, over centuries, functioned within the Church and served the great good of the Church.
If I had anything to do with Conclave arrangements, I would fix things so that the food got better and better within the Conclave as its weeks lengthened into months. And the wine became ever more plentiful. After two months, I would transfer the whole Conclave, lock, stock, and barrel, to Lake Garda and borrow some houris from PF's Islamic chums ... 'Ecumenical Feminae Probatae' they could be called.
So much is so wrong that it is hard to be very optimistic about the next Conclave. But, for me, the longer it takes, the more I will, in my subjective, fallible way, suspect that, possibly, just some of Their Eminences may have smuggled in their rosaries.