Friday, March 01, 2013

Choosing A New Pope

When I was writing Vatican Ambassador a few years ago, I did a ton of research into the practices of the Vatican, the Curia, and into the process by which the College of Cardinals picks a new pope. Though raised Roman Catholic and an active church participant up and through my teen years, it was still fascinating to learn about the papal selection process in greater depth than I'd been exposed to through experience.

Now, I'm writing about the Vatican and the New catholic Church in the year 2110. The small "c" is deliberate - this new, ecumenical Christian church of the future is "catholic" in the word's broader sense. However, to entice the actual Catholics to join, the new church did agree to let them bring along the trappings of the papacy. Figured that gave me the literary license to use what I wanted and streamline the rest in the context of my story...

Thought you might enjoy reading an excerpt from Vatican Ambassador that gives a little insight into the process. This first part of Chapter Fourteen features lead character BC's quick ascendancy into the College of Cardinals and participation in the process of choosing a new Pope. Here's a bit of  Vatican Ambassador:


When mass numbers of people get sick, things break down. Even as humanity advances, it still takes raw people power to keep the machines running.
BC has a hell of a time booking passage down to Earth. When he finally secures a ride, the flight itself is nearly empty.
The Rio Di Janeiro spaceport on Earth is another shock. Many of the shops and stores are shuttered. Other travelers are scarce.
BC hunts around for a connecting flight to Vatican City. It takes a few hours. He books his flight and calls the Vatican to let them know he’s on the way.
BC lands in Rome to a very different greeting. The media have somehow been alerted. Reporters surround the gate at the airport as BC disembarks. They spot BC and begin hurling questions at him.
"Ambassador! Where have you been?"
"Father Campion! What do you know about the plague?"
"Why haven’t you been infected, Father Campion?"
"How did it happen?"
"Do you think this is the work of the UIN?"
"What’s your reaction to the Pope’s death?"
BC ignores them all best he can as he walks past. He breathes a sigh of relief when he spots a waiting Vatican transport with his name on it. He hops in and rolls away from the pursuing, clamoring crowd.
Aside from the media dogs, there weren’t many other people there at the port.
How bad is it?
BC is sent to the College of Cardinals immediately upon his arrival at the Vatican, his luggage whisked away to some rooms he’s told he’ll be shown to later. Cardinals Hardwick and Terpa are waiting for BC when he arrives outside the Sistine Chapel.
"Cardinal Campion, you’re just in time!" Terpa says, greeting BC.
"What? I’m not a Cardinal…" BC demurs.
Terpa and Hardwick nod.
"You are," Terpa says to him.
"But I was never even a Bishop… That’s a done deal?" BC asks.
"A done deal," Hardwick says. "There aren’t many of us left," he tells BC. "You were elevated in absentia by the late Pope Peter the Third, under special circumstances. We’ll make it official while you’re here in Rome. You’ll be elevated to bishop at the same time."
"Okay," BC says, surprised, trying to think.
Made a Cardinal against my will! These people are desperate.
"How bad has this sickness gotten?" BC asks them.
"It’s bad," Terpa says. "It is a plague such as the world has never seen. Billions are dying, Cardinal Campion. Not all who are exposed are infected… it seems to affect people at random. It’s very strange."
"The UTZ Scientists have announced cures twice," Hardwick says, "only to find their announcements have been premature, that their measures don’t measure up."
"I’m afraid many people are sure it’s the work of the Muslims," Terpa tells him.
"Really?" BC asks.
"We’ve seen the polls," Hardwick says. "We hear it from our own people."
"It’s not the Muslims," BC tells them. They both stare at him. Terpa finally breaks the silence.
"What…" she says, and then she pauses. "How do you know?" she asks him. "Mars has been silent, closed off."
Hardwick shakes his head.
"There’s been no traffic from Mars," he tells BC, "and no communications, either. There’s no way to know how the UIN has been effected."
"I know that," BC admits, "but I also know that this ‘plague’ wasn’t caused by the UIN."
"You know? Well…" Terpa says. "…what are you saying? This is natural? Or is someone else responsible?" she asks BC.
"I’ve spoken with some UTZ scientists," BC says, stretching the truth. "They think it may be extraterrestrial."
I don’t want to tell them about The Project… yet.
"We’ve heard that, too," Hardwick says. "But couldn’t they have found a virus or something on Mars and somehow, I don’t know, ‘weaponized’ it? That would make it ‘extraterrestrial’, wouldn’t it?"
Now he’s a Cardinal and a scientist?
"Not really… They don’t have the technology to create this sickness," BC explains. "Our scientists admit that even they couldn’t create this."
"I haven’t heard any of them admit that," Hardwick says, the question in his voice.
"They haven’t publicly," BC tells him.
"Oh."
A group of young priests appear from inside the chapel and approach them.
"Primus inter pares? Your eminence?" the lead priest, a young African woman wearing bright blue clerical robes addresses Cardinal Hardwick.
"Yes, Reverend Chiamaka?"
"It’s time. The other Cardinals are waiting for you and the Secretary Cardinal to begin the Papal Conclave," Chiamaka says, nodding to Cardinal Terpa as well. "The chimney has been prepared. The chapel has been swept for any possible surveillance devices. All is in readiness, awaiting only the three of you."
"Well, then… as the Dean of the College of Cardinals, I officially invite you to join the conclave, Cardinal Campion!" Hardwick says to BC, extending his hand.
"Right now? I accept, I guess," BC says tentatively. He shakes Hardwick’s hand. They enter the chapel and the doors crash shut and are sealed behind them.
"Come," Hardwick says to BC and Terpa, "We have work to do."
The Sistine Chapel… Gets to me every time…
I didn’t know there was damage in here, too. It was never hit directly. It was one of the few buildings they protected.
Sadly, there has been some damage. Some of the wall frescoes are now cracked, or broken, with pieces fallen off. Several of Michelangelo’s masterpieces on the ceiling have lost chunks, ugly white patches showing through some of the master’s work.
Sad to see… Huh, there’s old Jeremiah up there… some say it’s a self portrait by Michelangelo… funny, I never read Jeremiah’s book until forced to by The Light. He puts the cur in curmudgeon. Look at him up there, angry and puzzled. Guess we have that in common…
"Watch where you’re going," Hardwick cautions BC. BC’s been so busy looking up he didn’t notice the chair he was about to walk into. The chapel has been furnished for the affair: large, red velvet cushioned, oaken thrones are arrayed along the side walls, facing each other.
BC looks around. Staring up at the ceiling he didn’t see the other Cardinals gathered around the altar. There aren’t as many as he’d thought there would be. He tries to make a quick count.
There are only about fifty people here… and a lot of them are pretty young to be Cardinals!
"Where’s everybody else? I thought we had over two hundred Cardinals in the College?" BC asks Hardwick and Terpa.
"We did," Terpa says.
"We now have 59 Cardinals," Hardwick says sadly.
"Counting me?" BC asks.
"Counting you," Hardwick tells him.
 "Oh. I see."
"Have a seat," Hardwick says, indicating a throne for BC.
"Thank you," BC says. Hardwick nods. He and Terpa then continue on up to the altar.
A throne… a throne of my own…
BC sits down. He looks across the chapel at some of the other Cardinals, already seated.
I feel like I just walked into a party I was not invited to… Talk about not belonging somewhere… what?
The Cardinal on the throne next to BC is talking to him in a soft voice. All BC hears is, "by the Cardinal Camerlengo, stand."
"What?" BC asks in a hoarse whisper.
"Stand up!" the old man snaps back at BC.
Cranky old dude! Well, I guess this is it…
Cardinal Camerlengo Hardwick, Dean of the College of Cardinals, stands before the altar and swears them all to secrecy. Terpa and two other Cardinals walk down the rows of chairs and hand each of them a slip of paper.
"Please be seated," Hardwick says as the last of the ballots is handed out. BC looks at his slip.
"Eligo in summum pontificem," BC reads. Luckily, there is a translation underneath the words:  I elect as supreme Pontiff...
BC looks around the room. He notices others doing the same.
I don’t even know any of these people! Maybe I’ll vote for myself… or Hardwick. Maybe Terpa… this church could use a female pope, a first for the NcC and Christianity in general. This is just the first ballot; it doesn’t mean anything anyway…
BC writes his own name down and laughs.
Why not? I’m sure we’ll find out who the real candidates are after this first vote.
Hardwick speaks from the altar.
"Please bring your ballot up, present it, and place it in this chalice," he tells the assembly, indicating an ornate, oversized gold and silver chalice on the altar, covered by a thin gold paten.
The Cardinals process up to the altar in an orderly fashion. BC tries not to smirk as he walks up to the altar, holds his vote aloft, and then slides it under the paten and into the cup. He is one of the last to vote. As he heads back to his seat, Terpa and the two other Cardinals line up with Hardwick for counting.
The counting takes a while. Each name for each vote is read aloud three times: Terpa reads the name aloud and writes it down on a tally sheet in front of her, then hands the ballot to the next Cardinal. The next Cardinal reads the name aloud as well, and then hands the ballot to the third Cardinal. The third repeats the name again, and then runs a needle and thread through the ballot, creating a string of punctured votes.
"Bernard Campion," Terpa says aloud, about halfway through the ballots. Her eyes lock with his briefly.
She does not look happy… guess she didn’t like my little joke…
"Bernard Campion," repeats the second Cardinal.
"Bernard Campion," echoes the third, and then he pokes the needle and thread through the ballot, adding it to his string.
One ballot for BC…
More names are called. It’s clear there won’t be a pope elected on this first vote, there are too many names for any candidate to have received a full two-thirds.
"Bernard Campion," Terpa says again, his name echoed by her two colleagues.
Wait a minute… Another ballot? Who else would vote for me?
BC hears his name come up again on two other ballots, his name repeated three times each time, before the voting is over.
This is insane…
The first vote finally over with no winner, Terpa and the other two Cardinals assisting in the voting gather all other notes from around the room, and then head to the back to burn the ballots and notes. The black smoke will let the outside world know there’s been no decision. While they perform the ritual task, Hardwick addresses the rest of the assembly.
"We do not have a new pontiff yet," he tells them, "but we do have four candidates who have received more than one vote. Cardinal Castellini of Turin has five in his favor. Cardinal Kibwe of Nairobi has four, as does Cardinal Hardwick, er, myself," he says, pausing awkwardly, visibly uncomfortable. "And, finally, Cardinal Campion of the Vatican Mission on Lunar Prime has three votes."
BC can feel the eyes of the other Cardinals on him. Luckily, Hardwick continues, drawing back their attention.
"We will vote again tomorrow, twice in the morning, and twice in the afternoon, if necessary," Hardwick tells them. "I would like to ask now for a vote on the number of ballots we will have before we look for a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority.
"As time is of the essence, I suggest six, in hopes that we can elect a new pope in our third day. All in favor?"
The vote carries.
"Good!" Hardwick exclaims.
"Please follow Cardinal Terpa. She will lead you to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where you’ll be staying. It’s similar to a staff-less hotel. Everything you need is, hopefully, provided. If there is anything more that you require, please see Cardinal Terpa or myself. We reconvene at 6 am tomorrow morning. Thank you, God Bless You all," he says, finishing.
"Amen," the assembly answers back.
The Cardinals begin filing out after Terpa, heading for their rooms.

(Continued in Mike Luoma's Vatican Ambassador!)