A discreet silence has fallen upon the papal side of Rome. On the other, the night clubs blare and the fallen people ply their trade and traffic surges until it is evaporated by the one 'oclock heat and the poor tourists, in flocks, like goats led by a bell wether, curiously uncomplaining, wander into St Peter's and clamour to see the grave of the dead Pope.
Of course there is endless speculation, especially among the professionals of the clergy and the Press. A short list of papabili has been unconsciously chosen by Vaticanologists and echoed in the Press.
Not one of the names considered most likely to succeed is really known to the public. And the mind and the heart of the conclave is simply not known because it simply does not yet exist.
This must be one of the most wide-open conclaves that has ever been held. in recent conclaves there have always been one or two outstanding candidates. Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, were all reasonably predictable. Butihis time, no one.
The favourites, who are mentioned are really the .Press favourites, chosen because they fit the obvious categories — 1Baggio, Pironio, Pignedoli, Bertoli, Felice.
The cardinals, even the French ones, are not talking to the Press about the conclave or personalities or about their votes, For they have been sternly forbidden to do so by the conclave rules laid dolwn by Paul VI in 1975.
True, some of the great European Princes of the Church have been mentioned. These are the men who in practice dominated the working of the Church more than the back room men of power beavering away inside the Vatican or in some deep, detached Roman palace. These are the more known men like Koenig and Willebrands and Suenens and Hume.
True, the bloc made up of the European cardinals is now in the majority and stands at 56, against 55 from all the rest of the world. Sickness and death have hit the other half harder but it is of no matter because Europeans do not constitute a voting bloc and are in healthy political disagreement.
You can still meet cardinals here, but religiously they will not talk about the conclave.That is utterly forbidden under conscience.
They can talk about the sort of Church they want, but not in a way to commiit them to the support of any particular cardinal. The old ecclesiastical gossip has died here, frozen dead in its tracks, killed by obedience and discretion.
Cardinal Cooke, of New York, is quite prepared to defend this somewhat un-American behaviour in the face of an election. He gave a Press conference here flanked by Maderos of Boston and Manning of Los Angeles.
They were formidable, confident. Dressed in the dead black of the old priesthood, no scarlet, but some tridentine rings twinkled on their fingers. They looked like the pastors of good, successful parishes. They spoke with an astonishing and tentative humility.
Cardinal Cooke defended this colossal secrecy that is taller than a wall of fear. Long ago he had suspected it, but then he realised that it conferred an extraordinary freedom. Only God watched this balloting, and they were answerable to no public opinion only to Him.
From what the cardinal said. it was clear that the first question is, what sort of Church should it be. It should be sensitive to local cultures. "undividualisation" I
think he called it. It should be passionate about peace and seek for justice, and lead the way to justice, because justice is the only basis for peace.
Admirable statement of this sort are being made all over Rome, with the first proviso that the new Pope should be a man of God. As guidelines, however, these specifications point to no particular men.
So the cardinals go into the conclave today open to the Holy .Spirit, fully aware of the issues at stake, influenced perheps, as never before, by the strength of the conflicting opinions within the Church, battered by Press reports, longing for unity, confidence and the most effective way of doing the job.
To get this story, which is so secret that it would take years for even some of its details to Seep through into the light, an enormous Press corps has assembled in Rome. It is of the size that usually covers the major summit meetings of the Great Powers.
The surprise is that the Vatican Press Office has this time seized its opportunity. The spokesman — for the English: speaking Press, which is by far the largest group — is a deft and careful American priest who actually seems to want to help rather than to hobble in the old Vatican manner.
He bears a rather heavy responsibility. At the beginning he will be largely responsible for the sort of picture of the new Holy Father that emerges. It will not be easy. But then the new Pope is almost certain to be a man not well known in the Church, who is really known only in his own area, territorial or expertise.
To bet on a papal election is a sin. punishable in theory by excommunication, but people who would gamble on such art election are not only sinners, they are also suckers.