Interregnum report, March 12

Day One of the conclave began with the Mass for selecting the supreme pontiff, concelebrated by all the cardinals present, including those over eighty. Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, gave the homily and reminded electors of the importance of unity as they contemplate their duty. But Elena Curti, writing in The Tablet, noted that Sodanos homily

was largely unremarkable in its message and tone, and contrasted with that delivered at the same Mass in 2005 by the then Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The future Pope Benedict XVI then spoke of the threat posed by what he called the "dictatorship of relativism" and issued a rallying call to the Church to combat secularism.

Pat Marrin, writing at Celebrations, examines the selection of readings:

The readings assigned for the Mass are Isa 61: 1-3a, 6a, 8b-9; Ps 88; Eph 4: 11-16; John 15: 9-17. Imagine you are in the conclave and these words from Isaiah are echoing in your mind: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me, sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives . Or from Ephesians: We are no longer to be children tossed by waves and whirled about by every fresh gust of teaching; so let us speak the truth in love, so shall we fully grow up into Christ. Or from the Gospel of John: This is my commandment; love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this, that a person should lay down his life for his friends.

Italian paper La Republicca says that while support for a reform-minded candidate from North America remains strong, Milan archbishop Angelo Scola currently has the backing of up to forty cardinals. However, The Guardian reports today that the chances of Scola, the hot favourite to be the next pope, suffered a blow:

Anti-mafia detectives swooped on homes, offices, clinics and hospitals in Lombardy, the region around Milan, and elsewhere. A statement said the dawn raids were part of an investigation into "corruption linked to tenders by, and supplies to, hospitals".Healthcare in Lombardy is the principal responsibility of the regional administration, which for the past 18 years has been run by Roberto Formigoni, a childhood friend of Scola and the leading political representative of the Communion and Liberation fellowship. Until recently, Scola was seen as the conservative group's most distinguished ecclesiastical spokesman.

Meanwhile, Robert Royal examines the Sean OMalley factor:

There has been a lot of last minute news, not necessarily accurate, about expected coalitions. Latin American experts say the Brazilian Odilo Scherer, often characterized as a kind of stalking-horse candidate of the curia, has little support among Latin American cardinals themselves. Surprisingly, many of them seem to look to Boston Cardinal Sean OMalley, a man with a long history in South America and who speaks Spanish and Portuguese among other languages.The surprise lies in two facts. First, Latin America has long had a certain resentment toward North America, justified in several respects, because of the way the United States in particular has tried to control politics south of the Rio Grande. Second, Cardinal OMalleys press secretary, Terry Donilon, is the brother of President Obamas National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon. In the not so distant past, Latin Americans, and not only they, would have thought that to vote for an American pope meant the Vatican and the CIA would jointly run the world.Happily, thats no longer the case or at least not automatically the case. And getting past that exaggerated fear is a good thing for both the Church and the world.

Gary Wills, writing for the New York Review of Books blog, asks, Does the pope matter?

When Cardinal Ratzinger was asked, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, if he was disturbed that many Catholics ignored papal teaching, he said he was not, since truth is not determined by a majority vote. But that is precisely how the major doctrines like those on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection were fixed in creeds: at councils like that of Nicaea, by the votes of hundreds of bishops, themselves chosen by the people, before popes had any monopoly on authority. Belief then rose up from the People of God, and was not pronounced by a single oracle. John Henry Newman, inOn Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine (1859), argued that there had been periods when the body of believers had been truer to the faith than had the Church hierarchy. He was silenced for saying it, but his historical arguments were not refuted. With the election of a new pope, the press will repeat old mythsthat Christ made Peter the first pope, and that there has been an apostolic succession of popes from his time. Scholars, including great Catholic ones like Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, have long known that Peter was no pope. He was not even a priest or a bishopoffices that did not exist in the first century. And there is no apostolic succession, just the twists and tangles of interrupted, multiple, and contested office holders. It is a rope of sand.

John Thavis breaks down a typical Day One of the conclave in Praying and Politicking:

The praying takes place in the Sistine Chapel, where the voting procedure is so formal and so solemn that the cardinals dont even talk to each other. Theres a reason the cardinals will file into the chapel in choir dress they are, in a sense, participating in a liturgy.For that reason, theres no chit-chat among the cardinal electors, and certainly no chance to ruminate on vote tallies.But that changes as soon as the cardinals exit the Sistine and get on the mini-buses to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, their residence inside Vatican City. They begin to talk, to reflect on the balloting and, yes, even to promote their candidates to brother cardinals.Theres a reason the conclave generally begins with a single ballot in an evening session. The first ballot, which may find 15 or more cardinals receiving votes, gives the lay of the land, and the cardinals have some numbers to work with as they head off to dinner.

Heres an actual minute-by-minute schedule for the next couple of days. By the time you read this, the electors should be finishing up vespers and getting ready for that first dinner, if aconclave cardinals life by the clock proves accurate.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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