Authors: Daniel Silva
There were two large flat-panel televisions in the dining hall of the Jesuit Curia, one at either end of the room. Between
them were a hundred or so priests in black cassocks and clerical suits, along with a group of students from the Pontifical
Gregorian University. The male baritone din subsided briefly as a party of invited laityâtwo young children, two beautiful
women, and the chief of Israel's secret intelligence serviceâentered the room.
Donati had changed out of his choir dress and was once again wearing the Vatican equivalent of business attire. He was locked
in what appeared to be a serious conversation with a silver-haired man whom Veronica identified as the superior general of
the Society of Jesus.
“The Black Pope,” she added.
“That's what they used to call Donati.”
“Only his enemies dared to call him that. Father Agular is the real Black Pope. He's Venezuelan, a political scientist by
training and something of a leftist. A writer from a conservative American magazine once labeled him a Marxist, which Father
Agular took to be a compliment. He's quite pro-Palestinian as well.”
“How much does he know about you and Donati?”
“Luigi's file was purged of any reference to our affair after he became Lucchesi's private secretary. As far as the Jesuits
are concerned, it never happened.” Veronica nodded toward a table lined with soft drinks and bottles of red and white wine.
“Would you mind? I'm not sure I can do this sober.”
Gabriel added Veronica's four bottles of pinot grigio to the collection of wine. Then he poured three glasses from an open
bottle of lukewarm Frascati while Chiara served the children pasta from the chafing dishes arranged along the neighboring
buffet. They found an empty table near one of the televisions. The cardinal-electors had left the Casa Santa Marta and were
gathered in the Pauline Chapel, the final stop before they entered the Sistina for the start of the conclave.
Veronica tentatively sipped her wine. “Is there anything worse than room-temperature Frascati?”
“I can think of a few things,” answered Gabriel.
Donati and a smiling Father Agular approached the table. Rising, Gabriel offered the leader of the Jesuits his hand before
introducing Chiara and the children. “And this is our dear friend Veronica Marchese.” Gabriel's tone was uncharacteristically
bright. “Dottora Marchese is the director of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco.”
“An honor, Dottora.” Father Agular looked at Gabriel. “I
follow events in the Middle East quite closely. I wonder if we might have a word before you leave.”
“Of course, Father Agular.”
The Jesuit contemplated the television. “Who do you think it will be?”
“They say it's Navarro.”
“It's time for a Spanish-speaking pope, don't you think?”
“If only he were a Jesuit.”
Laughing, Father Agular withdrew.
Donati pulled out a chair between Gabriel and Raphael and sat down. He scarcely acknowledged Veronica's presence. Beneath
his breath he asked, “How is she doing?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“I have to say, she looks wonderful.”
“You should have seen her after Metzler killed Father Graf.”
“He covered it up quite well. Even Alessandro Ricci is in the dark.”
“How did you manage to convince him not to publish his story about the plot against the conclave?”
“By promising to give him everything he needs to write a blockbuster sequel to
“Tell him to keep my name out of it.”
“You deserve a little credit. After all, you saved the Catholic Church.”
“Not yet,” said Gabriel.
Donati looked up at the television. “We'll know by tomorrow night. Monday at the latest.”
“Why not tonight?”
“This afternoon's vote is largely symbolic. Most of the cardinals will cast ballots for friends or benefactors. If we have a
new pope tonight, it means that something extraordinary has taken place inside the Sistine Chapel.” Donati looked at Raphael. “It's uncanny. If he had gray temples . . .”
“I know, I know.”
“Can he paint?”
“Quite well, actually.”
“A writer, I'm afraid.”
Donati looked at Veronica, who was sharing a private joke with Chiara. “What do you suppose they're talking about?”
“You, I imagine.”
Donati frowned. “You haven't been meddling in my personal life, have you?”
“A little.” Gabriel lowered his voice. “She has something she wants to discuss with you.”
“Really? And what's that?”
“She'd like to ask you a question before it's too late.”
“It already is too late. Rome has spoken, my friend. The case is closed.” Donati drank from Gabriel's wineglass and made a
face. “Is there anything worse than room-temperature Frascati?”
Shortly after three o'clock, the cardinal-electors processed into the Sistine Chapel. With the cameras watching, each placed a hand on the Gospel of Matthew and pledged, among other things, that he would not take part in any attempt by outside forces to intervene in the election of the Roman pontiff. Domenico Albanese repeated the oath with exaggerated solemnity, a sainted expression on his face. The television commentators praised his performance during the period of the
interregnum. One went so far as to suggest he stood an outside chance of emerging from the conclave as the next pope.
“Heaven help us,” murmured Donati.
It was nearly five o'clock when the last cardinal had sworn his oath. A moment later the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies,
a thin bespectacled Italian named Monsignor Guido Montini, stood before the microphone and declared softly, “Extra omnes.”
Fifty priests, prelates, and Vatican-connected laity filed out of the chapel, including Alois Metzler, who was wearing his
Renaissance-era dress uniform and white-plumed helmet.
“Good thing he wasn't dressed like that last night,” remarked Gabriel.
Donati smiled as Monsignor Montini closed the Sistine Chapel's double doors.
“We find a bottle of chilled wine,” said Donati. “And we wait.”
The first order of business was the distribution of the ballots. Atop each were the words
eligo in summum pontificem
I elect as supreme pontiff
. Next came a drawing to select the Scrutineers, the three cardinals who would tabulate the vote count. Three Revisers, who
would scrutinize the work of the Scrutineers, were chosen next, followed by three
, who would collect the ballot of any cardinal too ill to leave his bed at the Casa Santa Marta. Cardinal Angelo Francona
was relieved that none of the forty-two cardinals implicated by Luigi Donati were chosen for any of the nine positions. Though
he was not a mathematician, he knew the odds of such an outcome were astronomical. Surely, he reasoned, the Holy Spirit had
intervened to safeguard what little remained of the conclave's integrity.
The preliminaries complete, Francona approached the mi
crophone and eyed the 115 men arrayed before him. “I know it's been a long day, but I suggest we vote.”
If there was to be a breakdown, it would happen now. A single objection would require the conclave to adjourn for the night
and the cardinals to return to the Casa Santa Marta. It would be interpreted by the rest of the world as a sign of intense
rancor and division within the Church. In short, it would be a disaster.
Francona held his breath.
There was silence in the room.
“Very well. Please write the name of your chosen candidate on your ballot. And remember, if a vote cannot be deciphered, it
cannot be counted.”
Francona sat down in his assigned seat. The card lay before him, a pencil beside it. He had intended to follow conclave tradition
and cast a complimentary vote on the first ballot. But that was no longer possible. Not after last night's fireworks in the
Casa Santa Marta. Now was not the time to flatter an old friend or patron. The future of the Roman Catholic Church was hanging
in the balance.
I elect as supreme pontiffÂ
.Â .Â .
Francona raised his eyes and contemplated the men seated around him. Who could it be?
Is it you, Navarro? Or you, Brady?
No, he thought suddenly. Francona believed with all his heart that there was only one man who could save the Church from itself.
He took up his pencil and placed the tip to the card. It was customary for cardinal-electors to disguise their handwriting,
and thus their vote. Francona, however, wrote the name swiftly and with his easily identifiable flourishes. Then he folded
the ballot in half, twice, and returned to the microphone.
“Does anyone require additional time? All right, then. Let us begin the balloting.”
The procedure, like nearly everything else about a papal conclave, was designed to reduce the possibility of foul play. Voting
was conducted in order of precedence. As dean of the Sacred College, Francona went first.
The Scrutineers were gathered on the altar, upon which stood an oversize gold chalice covered by a silver paten. Francona
held up his ballot and recited aloud yet another oath.
“I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should
He laid the ballot on the paten and, grasping the plate with both hands, tilted it a few degrees to the left. The ballot entered
the chalice cleanly. It was another sign, thought Francona, that the Holy Spirit was indeed present.
He replaced the paten and returned to his seat.
The process was deliberately cumbersome and slow, especially when performed by largely sedentary men in their sixties and
seventies, a few of whom walked with the aid of a cane. Even Kevin Brady, the energetic Angeleno, required thirty seconds
to swear his oath and maneuver his ballot safely into the chalice. Emmerich took his sweet time about it, as did Majewski
of KrakÃ³w. The swiftest was Albanese, who dumped his ballot into the chalice as though clearing bones from his dinner plate.
It was nearly half past six by the time the counting began.
With the paten in place, the first Scrutineer shook the chalice in order to mix the ballots. The third Scrutineer then counted the unread ballots to ensure there was one for each of the 116 electors. Much to Francona's relief, the numbers matched. If they hadn't, he would have been required to burn the ballots without tabulating them.
The ballots were now contained in a second, slightly smaller chalice. The Scrutineers placed it on a table before the altar
and sat down. The arcane ritual that followed was nearly as old as the Church itself. The first Scrutineer drew a ballot and,
after a moment's hesitation, made a small but significant amendment to the last page of the preprinted list of names before
him. He then handed the ballot to the second Scrutineer, who did the same. The third Scrutineer could not hide his surprise
when silently reading the name. A moment later, after piercing the ballot with a needle and red thread through the word
, he read the name aloud into the microphone.
A low murmur moved through the conclave. The name surprised no one more than Angelo Francona, for it was the one he had written
on his ballot. His candidate was unorthodox, to say the least. Surely it was his ballot that had been drawn first. He added
the name to his own list and placed a check mark next to it.
The first Scrutineer drew another ballot. Startled, he shot an anxious glance toward Francona before handing it to the second
Scrutineer. He placed a checkmark on his list of names and then handed the ballot to the third Scrutineer, who impaled it
with his needle and thread. The name he read aloud into the microphone was the same name as the first ballot.
“Dear God,” whispered Angelo Francona. Another murmur swept through the conclave, like the rumble of a passing aircraft. Someone else must have had the same idea.
The Scrutineers quickened their pace, ten ballots in a span of just four minutes by Francona's watch. Three went for Navarro,
one for Tardini, one for Gaubert, and five for Francona's dark-horse candidate. He had received seven out of the first twelve
votes counted, an astonishing pace. It couldn't continue, thought Francona.
But it did. Indeed, Francona's dark horse received six of the next ten votes counted, and a shocking seven of the ten that
followed. Francona marked each on his list. His candidate had received twenty of the first thirty-two votes counted, just
shy of a two-thirds majority.
Eighty-four ballots remained uncounted. When Francona's candidate received half of the next twenty votes tabulated, Cardinal
Tardini demanded that the first ballot be nullified.
“On what possible grounds, Eminence?” Francona was certain there were none. He looked at the three Scrutineers. “Draw the
next ballot, please.”
It went for Francona's candidate, as did fifteen of the next twenty. At which point the conclave erupted.
“Keep your voices down, brothers!” Francona's tone was scolding, a headmaster reproaching a roomful of unruly pupils. He glanced
at the Scrutineers. “Next ballot.”
It went for Albanese, of all people. Doubtless he had voted for himself. It was no matter; Francona's candidate captured
seventeen of the next twenty ballots. He had received sixty-three of the ninety-four votes tabulated. Twenty-two ballots had yet to be counted. If the name of Francona's candidate appeared on fifteen of them, he would carry the conclave.
Four consecutive ballots went in his favor, along with six of the next ten, bringing his tally to seventy-three, five short
of the seventy-eight required to be elected. The next ballot went for Navarro. After that, it was never in doubt. As the last
votes were counted, there was pandemonium. This time Angelo Francona made no attempt to restore decorum, for he was gazing
upward toward Michelangelo's depiction of the moment of creation.
“What have we done?” he whispered. “What in God's name have we done?”
The Scrutineers and Revisers counted the ballots a second time and double-checked their tabulation. There was no mistake.
The unthinkable had just happened. It was time to tell the rest of the world, not to mention the man who had just been chosen
to be the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics.
Francona loaded the ballots and the tabulation sheets into the older of the Sistine Chapel's two stoves and set them alight.
Then he flipped a switch on the second stove, igniting five tissue-box-size charges containing a mixture of potassium chlorate,
lactose, and pine resin. A few seconds later a roar arose from the thousands of pilgrims outside in St. Peter's Square. They
had spotted the white smoke pouring from the chapel's chimney.
Francona walked over to the doors and knocked twice. They were opened instantly by Monsignor Guido Montini. It was obvious from his expression he had heard the reaction in the square.
“Bring me a phone,” said Francona. “Quickly.”