As the moon peeked around the great dome looking from the Sistine Chapel, thirty-three men were gathered in the Sala Regia adjacent to the Sistine Chapel. In the Domus Sanctae Marthae forty other men waited vainly and with great vanity for their chance to swing the conclave for Josef Vendhem as the next Pope. It was a fait accomplis they had been told. They had also been offered the carrots of plum assignments. Yes, heaven on earth would be theirs. There was no need to wait for any other reward. Life after death was mere superstition to those men who had fallen for the great lie, selling out to the world, the flesh and the Devil. With the six who had occupied the Sala Concistoriale earlier they would be in cahoots. Misery indeed loves company.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sala Regia Hall, November 5, 8:25 p.m.
The formalities had concluded, roll call completed and assignments made for the first General Congregation preceding the events tomorrow. Cardinal Julies Mendoza had been seated as Dean of the College of Cardinals with three assistants. By acclamation the members had selected Cardinal Krementz, Cardinal Medelia and Cardinal Kravic. Cardinal Visserant had been appointed by them as secretary. Macelli, as the chamberlain, sat to the side beaming. He had the numbers. Or so he thought.
The lectern stood in the center. Behind six chairs faced out toward twenty-six other chairs five deep, five across, except for six in the last row, including Marcini's wheelchair. All faced the lectern. While the rules for the Conclave prohibited any Cardinal who had reached the age of 80 from participating in, not so all other functions. This included their active participation in the pre-conclave general congregation.
Cardinal Mendoza had just finished all the unofficial announcements that took nearly half an hour. It included Macelli's formal explanation why he had taken the authority to dispense with the novemdieles and had moved the funeral up from nine days viewing to only three. He also, to the consternation of many in the room, tried to rationalize why the conclave would follow so soon after the funeral Mass and why that mass would also serve as the official pre-conclave Mass. Many of the Prelates were twitching and stretching, their eyes wandering. They were impatient. The general consensus from their body language: Let's get on with the important matter of hand.
The Dean of the College caught the drift. "The Sala Regia Sede recognizes His Eminence Thomas Wetherby from Canada."
"Thank you, Your Grace," the Canadian proceeded. "Distinguished fellow Eminences of the College, I feel it is necessary that we bring to the floor the supposed document on the Jews that has caused so much consternation and besmirched the name of our dearly beloved Sovereign Pontiff of happy memory. I believe we --"
"I object," the Puerto Rican Cardinal voiced, standing up in the second row and purposely interrupting Wetherby's trend of thought. Several other Cardinals rose to join Lopez' protests, creating a scene that prevented Wetherby from continuing at the moment. So this was Macelli's ploy.
"This is highly inappropriate," Cardinal Mendoza shouted, banging the gavel in trying to restore order.
Several Cardinals complied by being seated.
Cardinal Visserant left his secretarial chair behind the lectern and moved to Mendoza's side, whispering something. Mendoza was not pleased, but considering the circumstances, he decided to allow Visserant to address the body of Cardinals.
"The Chair recognizes His Eminence Leon Tourrieu Visserant from France."
"Merci beaucoup, your Grace. Gentlemen, the point my distinguished colleague Cardinal Wetherby has made is indeed important and should be addressed."
Visserant was patronizing. Gregory shifted uneasily in his chair as the Frenchman continued.
"However, for a representative analysis of a matter of such importance, I believe the first priority must be the question of acknowledging another decree His Holiness Clement XV would have wanted fulfilled. Therefore, I believe it is pertinent we first place before the floor the matter of the additional preconium Bishops the Holy Father freely chose to receive the privileges of the red biretta."
This pompous, ambiguous oaf was going to have his way, thought Cardinal Quentin as he turned from the first row to get Gregory's attention. Gregory's eyes were closed in prayer.
Lopez rose again, "Your Grace."
Mendoza had no choice but to recognize the pesky Hispanic Prelate. "The Chair recognizes His Eminence Frederico Eijo Lopez from Puerto Rico," relinquished Cardinal Mendoza as he tapped lightly with the gavel on the lectern.
"Gracias, Your Grace, I would like to put before all the question of utmost importance. You all have before you a copy of the Holy Father's motu proprio declaring the next Consistory to have been held in February next year, as my distinguished colleague Cardinal Visserant has introduced. In happy memory of the late Clement XV, I propose we place before the floor His Holiness' wish and vote by acclamation that we adopt his desires and include those 40 selected Bishops in the Sacred Conclave. Therefore I move--"
"Point of order," shouted out Cardinal Wetherby. Lopez glared at the Canadian.
Mendoza acknowledged the interruption. "And that would be, Cardinal Wetherby from Canada?"
"There is doubt whether this document we all have before us is an official document," Wetherby responded.
"And why is that?" Mendoza knew what he was doing as he led the question.
"Because, Your Grace, there is no seal. Without the seal there is no proof this came from the hand of the Pope of happy memory, our beloved Clement XV."
"He has a point," referenced Mendoza directing his remark to Lopez.
As Vendhem shifted uneasily, the San Juan Prelate looked toward Macelli. Macelli was glaring daggers. Visserant was in the process of writing and never looked up. The camerlengo made a gesture with his hand across the throat, indiscreetly signaling Lopez to shut up. Never send a boy to do a man's work thought Macelli as he stood to be recognized.
"If it please the Chair, Your Grace, perhaps I can clarify this."
"Please do, Cardinal Camerlengo." Julies encouraged.
"Very well. Cardinal Adamo and I personally witnessed the Holy Father's signature in the Sala dei Pontefici. The problem with the seal was that the servants had not left a new batch of wax."
Cardinal Plinio rolled his eyes, glancing toward Cardinal Zachmunn. Gregory acknowledged and nodded his head. He was ready as he rose to address Cardinal Mendoza.
"Excuse me, Your Grace, but I believe the Cardinal Camerlengo could drone on and on all night in assuring us it is official," quipped Gregory. "Be that as it may, the fact is the seal is absent. Therefore we cannot admit the document as ex officio into evidence. I therefore move it be stricken from the docket."
"Point of order, Your Grace." Cardinal Krementz had risen to his feet from the assistants' row.
"The Chair recognizes His Eminence Erich Rupert Krementz from Germany." Mendoza had no choice.
"I believe, Your Grace, and I think my distinguished colleagues of the College will agree, there was a motion on the floor. Therefore we must vote on accepting the document per His Holiness' desire as he so wrote."
"Would the secretary please review that to see if there was a motion," urged Julies.
He was looking directly at Cardinal Visserant.
"Ah, oui, Mon Grace, Cardinal Lopez did indeed make a motion." The Prissy of Toulouse was lying through his teeth.
His fellow countryman took note. Cardinal Philippe Maurin had been leaning towards admitting the additional forty. Even after speaking with Cardinal Zachmunn he still had doubts. But realizing Visserant was bearing false witness was too much. The Archbishops of Marseilles would vote against the measure if it did come to the floor for a vote.
"You are sure?" asked Mendoza.
Leon Tourrieu du Visserant didn't flinch as he nodded yes.
Clearing his throat the Dean of the College had no choice. "Very well, then."
"Your Grace?" Cardinal Jean-Henri d'Estambleau of France, a progressivist from the word 'go' rose to get Mendoza's attention.
"The Chair recognizes His Eminence of the Apres College, Jean-Henri d'Estambleau of France."
"I believe it would be proper to vote by acclamation, No?"
"No!" Gregory was on his feet and prepared for this expected counter. "Per the official decree Quodcumque Solveris, His Holiness has pre-empted quas inspiratio. Ergo, if there were to be a vote, the pro scrutinium must apply to the general congregation as well as the rules of the Conclave."
"So noted," exhaled Mendoza, recognizing his American counterpart had headed off an emotional moment. With a voice vote those intimidated by Macelli or Vendhem would have no choice but vote for the measure. With a secret vote there was a greater chance they could deny voting against, when in truth they did. "Very well. If the assistants will distribute the ballots and pens we shall proceed with vote by scrutinium. It will be two-thirds majority plus one."
"Point of order," Cardinal Krementz barked.
"The Chair recognizes His Eminence from Germany." Cardinal Mendoza had hoped he could slip the two-thirds ballot rule past the pro-document forces, but they wouldn't give up.
"Your Grace, there is no precedent for two-thirds plus one ballot for General Congregation or particular congregation. Therefore it applies only to proceedings within conclave. I believe all that is needed is a simple majority."
Mendoza huddled with the three assistants. It was a matter of protocol, but despite Cardinal Medelia's presence, Julies knew that standing with Visserant, Krementz and possibly even Kravic, the deck was stacked against avoiding the vote. He glanced toward Cardinal Zachmunn, seated in the third row. Gregory merely held up his hands folded in prayer. It was in God's hands. Silently the Archbishops of St. Louis said a Memorare and prayed that the Holy Ghost would be with them.
The ballots were distributed. It was, in essence, a dress rehearsal for the Conclave except it lacked the formality, the pomp and circumstance. There was no chalice and paten or an altar. Instead each Cardinal walked to the front and deposited his folded ballot in the Dean's scarlet biretta. The whole process took ten minutes.
"With all ballots presented," the Dean of the College announced, "the assistants will now scrutinize the ballots."
The tension mounted with each announced vote. The process began with Krementz opening the ballot, then passing it to Cardinal Medelia to read and note. He then handed the ballot to Cardinal Kravic who read it aloud as Visserant tallied the number. The duty fell to him as the agreed-upon secretary for these proceedings.
Despite Visserant's logging of the results, almost every Cardinal in the room realized the count. The tally had reached 15 votes for admitting the forty Bishops, 14 against the measure with four votes to go. Gregory scrunched his eyes, hoping for a miracle. Surely God would not allow the Sacred Conclave to be so dishonored.
"No," announced Kravic. All knotted at 15, three to go.
"No," the Croatian Prelate intoned. Those opposing were up by one with two to go. Gregory continued to pray.
"Si." A sigh could be heard in the room. The next vote would decide the fate of the papacy.
Perhaps it was the look on Krementz' face as he opened the last ballot, but Gregory could feel a breath of fresh air seconds away. It was as if the Holy Spirit were physically present on the wisp of wind to blow away the intentions of those out to destroy. It seemed to Gregory that Cardinal Medelia held the ballot for an inordinate amount of time before finally passing it to Cardinal Jon Anton Kravic to announce.
You could hear a pin drop before the Croatian's booming voice echoed throughout the hall. The frescoes seemed to come alive in celebration. Pope Gregory XI's return to Rome from Avignon seemed ever more triumphant. Pope Alexander III took on a brighter luster as the repentant Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa knelt at his feet. The image of the raising of the ban from the Roman Emperor King Henry IV seemed to elevate to a higher degree; and the shouts of victory could be heard in the still fresco of Lepanto. Victory indeed!
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TWELFTH CHAPTER Episode Two
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