Page 12, 6th October 1978

6th October 1978
Page 12
Page 12, 6th October 1978 — I wish he had had a chance

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Locations: Milan, Rome


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I wish he had had a chance

Others who did not reign long

THE National Press has been at pains to remark on the tragic brevity of the reign of Pope John Paul. Yet we find that there are at least 12 popes in history who reigned for shorter times. Some of them were clearly pretty desperate expedients.

In 708 Sisinnius died. He came from Syria and ruled for about three weeks. He was so afflicted with gout that he could not feed himself.

In 827 or thereabout Valentine died. He was a Roman who lasted barely a month. He was noted for his piety and for the purity of his morals.

In 896 Boniface VI died. He had twice incurred a sentence of deprivation of his Holy Orders both as a sub-deacon and a priest. He lasted 15 days. He may have been forcibly ejected, and his pontificate was later declared null.

In 897 Theodore H died. He was a Greek and lasted for 20 days. As a man he was temperate, chaste and charitable to the poor. He caused the body of Pope Formosus, which had been thrown rudely into the Tiber and which had been washed up by a flood, to be decently reburied.

In 964 Benedict V died. He lasted 32 days. He was known for his learning and called Grammaticus. He was probably degraded by force and taken to Germany, returning the Papacy which had been usurped from Leo VIII.

In 1045 Sylvester III was deposed, probably as Anti-Pope. Benedict IX was already Pope but he was not a good one. So Sylvester HI had been elected by another faction. It is not quite certain how long it lasted.

In 1048 Damasus II died. He lasted for 23 days, dying of malaria in the town of Palestrina. His surname was Poppo and he was a Bavarian, the third German to be a Pope.

In 1241 Celestine IV died. He lasted 15 days. He came from Milan and was a nephew of Pope Urban III. He was probably a Cistercian.

In 1503 Pius III died. He lasted four weeks. He was tortured with gout and died at the age of 64. He is reputed by one chronicler to have left no moment of his time unoccupied and to be so temperate in food and drink that he only allowed himself an evening meal every other day. He was a nephew of Pius II.

In 1555 Marcellus II died. He lasted 22 days. He died at the age of 54 of a sickness caused by over-exertion during the papal ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter. The composer Palestrina dedicated his Missa Papae Marcelli to his memory. It is the supreme masterpiece of polyphony.

In 1590, Urban VII died. He lasted seven days. He was a man of extraordinary prudence and administrative ability. He chose the name Urban in order to remind himself to be kindly. He ordered the Roman bakers to make larger loaves of bread and to sell them more cheaply. He reimbursed them himself. He sternly opposed nepotism.

In 1605 Leo XI died. He became ill immediately after his coronation and died within 27 days. He was a nephew of Leo X, his mother a Medici. On his death-bed he fell out with his confessor because the priest had urged him to make his grand-nephew a cardinal. He too was firmly opposed to nepotism.

Pope John Paul himself reigned for 33 days.

Distinguished 'squatters'

IT MUST BE an unusually heavy thing to be a cardinal just now. On top of the dismay at the death of a Pope whom they had elected so quickly and with such euphoric conviction that they had done the will of the Holy Spirit, there is the prospect of doing it all over again.

For some who are old or ill it will mean another expensive and exhausting flight half way round the world. It will mean days of hanging about in Rome and leaving their other work undone.

And then it will mean again taking part in the most distinguished "squat" in history, being locked incommunicado into the Vatican Palace, which was not designed for even weekend guests. And this time it is likely to be for far more than just a couple of nights.

None of the cardinals complained after the last conclave. Cardinal Hume is reputed to have said that it was just as comfortable as his former monastic cell. But without any doubling up, accommodation has to be found for about 115 cardinals. In addition there must be accommodation for the Sisters of Charity who do the cooking, for the doctors, officials, technicians, pharmacists and men servants. And the windows are blocked and the ventilation is poor and some will have to live by electric light. There is a small corps of craftsmen-labourers in the Vatican who for centuries have been putting up stands, moving thrones, arranging seating and hanging out crimson drapery and doing the "dirty" work that lies behind the serene and gorgeous ceremonies. They have their own workshops and storerooms and are under the control of the Prefectura.

They have to make bedrooms out of the state rooms and offices and apartments within that clifflike warren of a palace and you are not allowed to drive nails into frescoed walls.

The cardinals drew lots for their accommodation. One for example, got a bed in the sacristy of the Pauline Chapel. There is accommodation — and a chapel — in the top floor attics where the papal secretaries usually live.

The papal apartments are a "no go" area, but the large apartment allotted to the Cardinal Secretary of State is at present unoccupied.

Fortunately there are a surprising number of loos carved into the walls and passages. Bathing facilities are less lavish. But the cardinals really do rough it with plastic wastepaper baskets and clip-on bedside lights and iron bedsteads borrowed from students' hostels.

And according to the Apostolic Constitution which governs the election of a Pope and which was issued by Pope Paul in 1975, they are not allowed to play politics or make little bargains and they are pretty cramped even in the Sistine Chapel. It's not my idea of how to pass a Roman summer.

Polyglot team of journalists

THE journalists who wait outside are rather better catered for, but they would not care to admit this.

For the last election there was a polyglot team of hundreds, a Press corps of a size which usually attends only the most supreme of summit conferences in the more convenient capital cities.

The only trouble was that the cardinals were very conscious about their solemn oaths and they all had had attacks of the secrecies. The result was that there was really no news: except of course for the name of the new Pope, which came too late for the first editions of the Sunday newspapers. In Britain this did not prevent a great deal of writing, especially in the Posh Sundays. The American news magazines and news agencies fielded teams of ferociously eager beavers. Never were so many after so little. And never did everyone get it so entirely wrong.

We had at least one briefing a day. We were divided into English speakers, which included bewildered Scandinavians and learned Dutchmen; into Italians, who all spoke at the top of their voices, and into the French, who, as usual, kept complaining.

The English briefer was a young American priest about whom in my desperation for anything, but anything, to write about, I was unfair.

He was the most patient person, even though day after day he could only say about the General Congregations — those are the daily meetings of all the cardinals in Rome who sede vacante (when there is no Pope) run the minimum business of the Church — that they had sat for about an hour in the morning and that there was no report of what they had said, except that they seemed to have been discussing

arrangements for the conclave. (They were not allowed to change the Constitutions or make any ecclesiastical appointments.) So Fr Roche was bombarded with some of the most dotty fringe questions I have ever heard — every day. How were the cardinals who were over 80 and therefore not allowed into the conclave to be informed of the election? Would there be a bar in the conclave area?

Could the carindals take in their transistor radios? (No, they could not!) What about the laundry?

Where did the stove in which they burned the papers come from? Where was it kept between conclaves? (Actually, they lost it and found it only just in time.) How would they make the smoke black or white? (Actually it came out grey despite the fact that the Italian army had provided chemical sticks to replace the traditional wet or dry straw.) Could they have 50 extra talephones installed in the Vatican Press Centre? (They got 20 extra.) Since the new Pope would be virtually an ally of the United States, could they have advance notice of his election? (No!) How many blankets to a cardinal's bed? No pebble was left unturned.

More than that, the Vatican Press Office provided a biography of every single cardinal, first in Italian and then translated into English by the American and English staffs.

Given the instinctive secrecy of the Vatican, this Press Centre is a marvel of modernity and good manners. It is as noisy as a railway terminus, with typewriters, telex machines, telephones, priests making statements and Italians discussing So if you find the reporting from Rome unsatisfactory or over-creative or pig-ignorant, or ill-tempered, just for once allow yourself a spasm, a small one, of pity for the budding ulcers of the international Press. And now — God help them! — they have to do it again.

This apparent professional cynicism does not disguise the fact that they were genuinely appalled by that stealthy death in the night. But even their grief has to go through the usual channels, and they are uncommonly crowd• ed and constricted ones.

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