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Friday, August 18, 2017
Date Posted:

The Man to Ask is Paddy Power

Speculations on the coming Conclave and the next Pope
Dr. Clive Gillis

Every commentator on Vatican affairs is agreed on one thing – that the man with the post access to insider secrets regarding the next Pope and therefore in the best position to predict who it will be, is the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

His odds are constantly updated online. Such is his importance that the BBC ran a special feature on him in January this year. Circumspect Paddy said, ‘There is nothing wrong in priests having a bet … you often see them at the races,’ but he would neither deny nor confirm that he had received ‘smart money … from the clergy.’

Paddy Power made it clear that, ‘if there are any rumours, the money will start to flood in.’ He insisted that if hard intelligence were to come from the top ‘we would know’. And with the coming Conclave, it is this leakage of intelligence that is one of the Vatican’s chief headaches, second only to the fear that a terrorist action similar to September 11th might deal a direct blow to the Conclave.

Another worry is the advance of technology, but we shall return to that in a moment.


‘Vatican watching’ is both popular and profitable. It involves observing trends in the smallest and most absolute monarchy on earth, with a billion adherents worldwide. Dozens of Vaticanistas make a handsome living from their watching. Whether Protestants like it or not, what happens in Rome has a worldwide impact. Watching the watchers has value too, if it is done circumspectly. The Vatican plans for centuries and millennia, so we hope that readers will find the analysis in this article of use even if the process of installing the next Pontiff is underway or even over, before it can be printed!

Can Popes resign?

As the only ancient absolute Monarchy on earth, forcing a Pope’s resignation is not easy. In the ancient church there were a couple of popes who are presumed to have resigned, St. Pontian in AD235 and Pope John II in Ad535. In addition there was one ‘utterly clear case’ that set a legal precedent, namely the abdication of Pope Celestine V in 1924.

The 1963 Code of Canon Law, the official law book of the Catholic Church, states, ‘If it should so happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone’ (Canon 332.2). And Pope John Paul II is not for resigning despite a powerful lobby trying to push the issue.


A successful murder attempt is an ever present threat. A variety of insiders could have their own motives for an assassination. Then there are those outside such as the KGB, and Al-Qaeda who according to a former CIA anti-terrorism chief, view the Pope as the symbolic head of the Crusaders. Three plots have become public knowledge since 1995. A traitor amongst the Swiss Guard is a constant possibility, as is a kamikaze attack on the papal Diaz in St. Peter’s Square.

Those close to the Pope have been saying for several years now that ‘he only has four good hours a day’. Any meaningful activity has to be squeezed into this window. In such circumstances an attack on the Pope might be seen as ‘providential’ in some quarters of the Vatican – or even worth assisting …?

This is the ultimate security nightmare for Rome and with a Conclave looming, those fears must increase.

The current Pope’s specially concocted Oath of Secrecy sworn on the ‘Holy Gospels’ already looks like something from a former age.

‘I promise and swear … to refrain from using any audio or video equipment capable of recording anything which takes place during the election within Vatican City … I take this oath fully aware that an infraction thereof will make me subject to the spiritual and canonical penalties which the future Supreme Pontiff will see fit to adopt …’

Pens and wrist watches can now contain recorders. Video cameras can look like buttons. Even the top grade debugging within the Vatican cannot prevent modern high penetration listening devices picking up conversations from parking places outside Vatican City. The fruits of such activity would be likely to register in Paddy Power’s odds.

The papal death threat

Vast sums have been already spent on securing roof top venues for what media contracts call the papal death event. This lasts from the moment of the pope’s death to the emergence of the new pope on the balcony some weeks later. During this time, cable channels will be operating 24 hours a day. News agencies will deliver ‘news as it happens minute by minute on the Internet.’

The Vatican feeds on media hype. The rooftop of the Society of Jesus World HQ usually does good business for events in St Peter’s Square but, possibly because of better camera angles for the white smoke, the top fee in a fight between CNN, the Japanese and CBS (and won by CBS) has gone to the Hotel Atlante at 34 Giovani Vitellechi which although further away is placed at the confluence of two roads giving an amazing view of the Vatican.

A curious fact

In Vatican City, hotel staff will operate the new Vatican Hilton, the Casa di Santa Marta. This will house the candidates, together with the necessary in-house confessors, doctors, and personal nurses for sick electors. Obviously the plug will be pulled on the electors’ fax, telephone and e-mail facilities, but one serious problem remains. Whether it was because of Mafia-type cost cutting when the Casa di Santa Marta was being constructed, or whether it was simply lack of foresight, the curious fact is that the interior walls are thin and it is said that conversations in adjacent apartments are only too easily audible with out the need for technical help!

The greatest security headache is posed by the twice daily outward and return trip from Santa Marta to the Sistine Chapel. Corralling them up in small mini buses is the solution most hinted at. Santa Marta is visible from St. Peters dome and it will be interesting to see if this is shut.

Santa Marta is air-conditioned, but not the Sistine Chapel where many electors are in danger of being overcome by the heat of a summer Conclave. The sweltering August 1978 Conclave, which elected the ill-fated John Paul I, saw Cardinal Sir break the rules by opening a window for the benefit of ‘asphyxiating’ Cardinals who were collapsing with heat stroke. Any relaxation of the rules in this area would pose yet another security risk. Moreover the wealthy sponsors of the recent restoration of the Sistine artwork are unlikely to tolerate anything that might damage the Chapel.

So what will the watchers be watching as they utilise every possible lapse in security during the next papal death event? The answer must be, how John Paul II’s new rules Universi Dominici Gregis will work out in practice at the Conclave. These rules are a deliberate move to obstruct the liberal tide generated by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

One senses the long shadow of Opus Dei behind this move. The man of sin is an absolute monarch. At the First Vatican Council 1870 he was declared infallible. Pius XII, the World War II Pope, summed up the situation when he said, ‘I don’t want collaborators, only people to execute my orders.’ And that’s how Opus would like it to stay.


The concept of collegiality, brought in by liberal Pope John XXIII in the liberal atmosphere of the sixties, was a reversal of this absolutism. Collegiality calls for the Bishops of the world to have greater autonomy in making decisions and be given powers of subsidiary. So if the bishops do not think a matter needs to be referred up to the Vatican governmental machine, the ROMAN CURIA, they can simply decide for themselves. Opus was made an autonomous personal prelature specifically to bypass the bishops. Opus would find any increase in the powers of the bishops contrary to its designs.

So when Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops on 15 September 1965, at the beginning of the 128th General Assembly of Vatican II, the gauntlet was thrown down. (John XXIII had died during the Council). This Synod, Paul VI explained, ‘… will be made up of bishops nominated … by the episcopal conferences … according to the needs of the Church, for [the Pope’s] consultation and collaboration, when for the well-being of the Church it might seem to him opportune … this collaboration of the episcopate ought to bring the greatest joy to the Holy See … it will serve a useful purpose in the daily work of the Roman Curia … News and norms will be made known to this assembly [the Synod] as soon as possible’.

Paul VI’s joy was short lived. By 1970 the Vatican and the Dutch hierarchy (which had just utilised collegiality to ‘endorse the marriage of priests and the admission of women into the priesthood’) were at each other’s throats. In 1971 the Bishop’s Synod supported the pope’s stand on priestly celibacy but, horror of horrors, ‘a sizeable minority were opposed.’

By 1974, with Opus breathing down the back of his neck, Paul VI, in an amazing U turn, ate his infallible words and ‘disapproved the bishops’ proposal for greater autonomy for the local churches.

Pope Paul Vi’s Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, promulgated on 1 October 1975, ruled ‘that cardinals who had reached the age of 80 could not enter into Conclave and that the number of electors could not go beyond 120’.

Universi Dominici Gregis

Pope John Paul II maintained both these limitations, on age and on numbers, when he revoked Romano Pontifici Eligendo and promulgated Universi Dominici Gregis in its place. These new Conclave rules are likely to favour conservatives like himself and therefore Opus Dei. The complete 92 point document is available at www.newadvent.org/docs/jp02ud.htm

But the papal stakes are not so high that he has far exceeded his own maximum number of cardinals and since some of the 131 rooms in the Casa di San Marta are necessary for staff, perhaps a few will have to share after all.

Pope John Paul ’s eighth ordinary public consistory appointed 44 new cardinals bringing the total to 184. The present Pope has reigned for so long that only ten of those eligible to vote are not his appointments and he has appointed cardinals of like mind to himself. But the masterstroke of Universi Dominici Gregis is that Bishops are now solidly barred by it from being electors. Only Cardinals can be electors and Cardinals are only answerable to the Pope and the present Pope created almost all of them.

That is what the watchers will be watching.


CONCLAVE (Latin:cum clavis, ‘with key’) The papal election was originally something of a perk for the electors, with sumptuous lodging and cuisine. The election of Celestine IV in 1241 took 70 days. It only ended when a local nobleman, Matteo Orsini, looked the electors in a room. The stifling August heat killed Cardinal di Somercotes and made others ill.

When Gregory X emerged from a tow and three quarter year election in the papal palace at Viterbo, which was also terminated by a local authority lock up, he passed the constitution Ubi periculum, which is the basis of the modern rules. After this, the electors were locked up at the outset, food and drink being passed through a window. Delays were to be punished with swingeing cuts in fare. Following the introduction of this rule, the next election took only a day!

Casa di Santa Marta. The new luxury £12 million, marbled Hilton style hotel was built by order of Pope John Paul II in Vatican City to accommodate the electors. It was opened in 1995 with top catering and bar facilities, together with ubiquitous alarms for the heavy smoking Cardinals. There are 108 guest suits and 23 single rooms with every modern convenience.

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