Back in October 2003, as a litany of papabili, or potential candidates, was intoned by the press amid one of John Paul II's health crises, Ratzinger wasn't mentioned at all. The favorite was an Italian, Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan. Even though Ratzinger was dean of the College of Cardinals, many saw him as past his prime. Moreover, his work as John Paul's ideological enforcer had made him a divisive figure in the church. "He had fallen off the radar," says a Curia official. But something was afoot that October. A Cardinal in the Curia, in conversation with another Vatican official, suddenly said, "I like Ratzinger's chances." Surprised at the time, the official now says, "Getting elected Pope is more a question of how many enemies you have than friends. And I thought Ratzinger still had too many enemies."
But John Paul, in spite of his ailments, was attending to that problem. In October 2003 he would not only persevere to celebrate his 25th anniversary as Pope but also forge ahead with an exhausting ceremony to install a new batch of Cardinals. By the time of his death, he had appointed 115 of the 117 Cardinals eligible to vote, stacking the college with men who were more likely to want to continue his conservative policies. Just as important, in the ensuing months most of the influential Cardinals of liberal stripe would pass the voting age limit of 80. The only one of stature left to rally wavering Cardinals to the liberal cause was Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini. But his clout was limited. In 2002 the Pope had allowed the ailing Martini to leave his power base in Milan to pursue his love of biblical scholarship in faraway Jerusalem. The Pope, on the other hand, refused to let Ratzinger give up his bureaucratic jobs in the Curia.
By the end of 2003, instead of being exhausted by work, Ratzinger appeared to have been rejuvenated. Not only did he keep on publishing books and papers, but he also became more audible as a conservative voice in European and global affairs. He became particularly visible in Italy, which was expressing some nostalgia for an Italian papacy after years of a Polish Pope. Ratzinger wrote several articles for major Italian papers. "All of a sudden last year," said a senior Vatican official, "he had become the darling of the [conservative] Italian intelligentsia."
In the first week of January 2005, hints that Ratzinger was a front runner hit the press. "The Ratzinger solution is definitely on," TIME quoted a well-placed Vatican insider. "There was a stigma. He rises above that now." But even then, many others found the idea unbelievable. "I thought the window was closing because of his age," says a Vatican official. If John Paul had lived two more years, says the official, Ratzinger "would have disappeared from the horizon." In February, John Paul was admitted to the hospital. And as the church focused once again on potential successors, something close to a papal campaign debate took place. Ratzinger and Tettamanzi attended a funeral in Milan for the founder of Communion and Liberation, a powerful conservative Catholic lay movement. Without notes, Ratzinger delivered an inspiring eulogy and received enthusiastic applause. Tettamanzi, who presided over the service as the local Cardinal, read his remarks and, according to a supporter of the Milanese prelate, left the crowd cold.
For Ratzinger, it was a critical time to appear strong and confident—and he got several opportunities to bolster such an image. For Good Friday, with John Paul near death, Ratzinger wrote the text for the closely watched reading of the Stations of the Cross. His daring language on the need to cleanse the church of "filth"—an apparent reference to the sex-abuse scandals plaguing the priesthood—startled some but was applauded by many looking for strength as John Paul's ebbed. Without having to claim as much, Ratzinger appeared to be the man in charge.
When the Cardinals arrived from around the world for John Paul's funeral, they naturally turned to the Cardinals of the Curia for advice and intelligence on who should replace him. "It's a fact that most Cardinals don't know most other Cardinals—not well, anyway, and not personally," says a priest close to Ratzinger. "The way they get to know each other is in Rome. And how do they get to know each other? They tend to ask the Curia Cardinals." And the person everyone wanted to meet was Ratzinger.
He made himself available to share his views. "My voice is tired because I've been talking all week," Ratzinger said on April 16, the Saturday before the conclave, as he stopped by his office so his staff could celebrate his 78th birthday. (They sang Ave Maria in rondo to mark the anniversary.) "His voice was almost gone," said Monsignor Gerald Cadieres, a Venezuelan who worked for him. For days, Ratzinger had been impressing visiting Cardinals by speaking in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish. It was like nonstop town-hall meetings in a U.S. political campaign—with this caveat: no one is allowed to campaign. One observer describes the pro-Ratzinger maneuvers not as politics but as attempts to change the "mood" of the conclave.
Still, like any good campaigner, he was center stage at every turn—at John Paul's funeral; at the first of the novemdiales Masses, held on the nine days after the Pope's funeral; as chairman of the Cardinals' daily congregation meetings; at the preconclave Mass. Were they all required appearances? Apparently, the novemdiales Mass did not necessarily have to be celebrated by Ratzinger. He was also under no obligation to deliver such substantial homilies. "Ratzinger seems to have grabbed the ball and run with it for two weeks," remarked an experienced Vaticanologist. A Ratzinger supporter put it in more pious terms: "Some inner fire was lit, like God had chosen him."
And then, on the Monday of the conclave, he delivered a homily that effectively acknowledged his candidacy, making it plain that he would not compromise his ideals to gain votes. It was a gauntlet thrown down before would-be challengers and a rallying cry for supporters. "What was he doing issuing a whole program for the future of the church?" asked an aide to a liberal Cardinal. "That should have been a moment for the dean of Cardinals to reflect on the spiritual process they were about to enter, not lay out his visions."
Ratzinger's supporters saw it otherwise. "It's not that he wanted the job. He didn't," said one. "But his brother Cardinals saw him leading an important Mass. Watching him, there was something that had changed, almost like he had already ascended to a new level." If the liberals arrived in Rome not truly believing Ratzinger was a viable candidate, they did now. Cardinal Martini had tried to organize a countermovement, and as the electors entered the conclave on Monday afternoon, the consensus was that two camps would be pitted against each other: the conservatives around Ratzinger and a group behind Martini. But Martini, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, was hoping only to blunt Ratzinger's momentum to give other less conservative Cardinals a chance to gather support.
The biblical scholar managed a good showing in the first round of balloting, but Ratzinger was already solidly ahead. The rest of the votes were spread among several Italians and, according to one voting Cardinal, several ballots were left blank. By evening, it was clear that no one was going to be able to step in for Martini.
Not even Ratzinger's younger conservative rivals could put up a fight. Tettamanzi, bested in eloquence on his home turf, reportedly managed only two votes. And the Italians never coalesced around another countryman. Indeed, while analysts at the time focused on the bloc-voting potential of the 20 eligible Italian Cardinals and how it might portend an Italian Pope, few noticed that the bloc had a fissure and that nine of those Cardinals were members of the Curia—well within Ratzinger's sphere of influence. A senior Vatican official notes, "What lifted him over the threshold were the Italians. If he got it in four ballots, it means the Italians were on board." An Italian member of the Curia, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the vicar of Rome, is believed to have ridden herd on the pro-Ratzinger Cardinals as they gathered. One Cardinal elector said many of the 20-member Latin American bloc closely aligned with the German's traditionalist stance arrived intent on getting Ratzinger elected. By Tuesday, Martini, who does not dislike Ratzinger personally, withdrew his candidacy and might have even thrown his support to him.
Liberals who could not stomach that option reportedly swung over to Buenos Aires' Jesuit Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio in an anyone-but-Ratzinger move, though several sources said the Argentine was himself aligned with the German. But the second balloting saw Ratzinger reach 60 votes. By the third, he was just shy of the 77 required for the papacy. By the fourth, he had won 95 out of 115. Liberal stalwarts left grumbling. "A good conclave is one where there are at least two candidates deadlocked," says a liberal supporter disappointed by the process. "A bad conclave is where there's one dominant figure. That was the case this time."
The liberals were simply outorganized by the Curia. "The ease of Ratzinger's victory was proof of just how compact and well prepared the Roman nucleus was," a Cardinal elector told TIME. The conservatives could also say it was answered prayer and proof of the intervention of the Holy Spirit. In the Sistine Chapel, as the tally went over the required two-thirds, "there was a gasp all around," Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor of Britain recalled in a press conference. Ratzinger, he said, "had his head down. He must have been saying a prayer." When Jorge Cardinal Arturo Medina Estevez—who would announce the election to the world from the balcony of St. Peter's—asked Ratzinger what name he would assume, the Pontiff-elect did not hesitate. "In the past, there's been a wait while the new Pope pondered the question for 10 minutes or so," says an informed source. "Not so this time. Ratzinger replied right away, 'Benedict XVI.' He was prepared."
- Hoy en la misa de inicio de pontificado Benedicto XVI dijo que no iba por el momento exponer su programa de gobierno, que más bien iba a escuchar. La pregunta es...¿a quién escuchará? Y...¿ ustedes creen que aún no tiene su programa de gobierno? A los fieles que acostumbran pensar por ellos mismos les tengo una mala noticia. Hoy en la ceremonia hubo una extraña y ominosa novedad: en lugar de que los cardenales fueran y se incaran ante el nuevo Papa ofreciéndole su obediencia, la tradición se cambió y un conjunto de 12 personas "representando" al catolicismo fueron y se incaron ante él: dos cardenales, un obispo, un sacerdote, un diacono, una religiosa, un religioso, una pareja de casados (heterosexuales claro) y dos jóvenes que recien se confirmaron. El mensaje: ningún católico deberá negar su obedencia al nuevo Papa, no solo solo los cardenales, sino todos los sacerdotes, todos los religiosas y religiosos, todos los casados, y todos los jóvenes. La dictadura papal busca más control, no menos; busca menos libertad de conciencia, no más. Buscará más miedo, no más amor.
Yo no recuerdo ningún evangelio donde Jesús fuera con la gente y les halla dicho "inquénse y obedezcánme". No, Jesús no era un hombre tan sediento de poder, tan bajo. El sólo tenía un mandamiento: amen a Dios sobre todas las cosas y a su prójimo como a sí mismos. Eso es, ahí está todo. Pero no para Ratzinger, no para Roma.... No más recursos de representación, no más debate de ideas, no más pensamiento crítico: los católicos están para obedecer a Joseph Ratzinger, el nuevo Papa Benedicto XVI.
Un símbolo que resume todo: su trono fue elevado sobre todos, aún sobre los cardenales. Recordemos que en la tradición el Papa es llamado el "primero entre iguales". Hoy esa tradición también fue borrada.