Zero Hour at the Vatican: Bitter Struggle for Control of the Catholic Church


A 63-year-old Brazilian with ancestors from the German state of Saarland, Odilo Pedro Scherer, is also on the list of likely possibles, as is French-Canadian Marc Ouellet, a close friend of Ratzinger who could garner the votes of North and South Americans, thereby bridging the old and new worlds.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, 63, a representative of the wealthy US church, is also frequently mentioned as a possible candidate.

And then there is another candidate, the "Wojtyla from the Far East, Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines. He is said to possess the brain of a theologian and the heart of a shepherd, as well as being more charismatic than most in the College of Cardinals. But at 55, he is also the second youngest in the College of Cardinals, practically a baby by Vatican standards.

Taking Advantage of Zero Hour

In short, the result of the conclave is as difficult to forecast as it was in 1978 when, after several rounds of voting, a largely unknown Pole stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. The next pope could be a black man, an African. He could be a charismatic South American or an Italian apparatchik or a reformist European. He could be someone who continues Ratzinger's course or someone who takes advantage of zero hour.

Only one thing is certain: Next Thursday, at about 5 p.m., a white Sikorsky Sea King helicopter will lift off from the landing pad in Vatican City into the skies above Rome. The pope will be on board and sitting next to him, in all likelihood, will be his private secretary, Georg Gänswein. Their destination is less than 25 kilometers (16 miles) away: Castel Gandolfo, the beloved papal summer residence, with its beautiful view of bottle-green Lake Albano.

Three hours later, at precisely 8 p.m., the pope will no longer be a pope. His chair will then be "vacante," as the sede vacante beings. There will be a simple dinner at Castel Gandolfo. The new pope will assume his office by Easter. Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, will perform his duties until then.

Joseph Ratzinger will move out of the papal palace and into his new home in the former Convent of Mater Ecclesiae, a simple, ochre-colored, 450-square-meter (4,840-square-foot) building in the Vatican gardens, with 12 rooms, as small and sparse as prayer booths. Until November, the building was occupied by 11 nuns with the Salesian Sisters, who harvested lemons and planted tomatoes, zucchini and the whitish-yellow "John Paul II" rose. Now the building is hastily being renovated, as construction debris is carried out and the library enlarged to accommodate Benedict's books -- and the two Georgs, Gänswein and Benedict's 89-year-old brother. Both men will likely visit the ex-pope's new home for a session of ora et labora.

Georg Ratzinger remembers a day, a few months ago, when they were sitting together in the room that the pope had set up for his older brother in Rome. They talked about all kinds of things. Then Benedict said that he intended to resign from office. According to his brother, he made the announcement very matter-of-factly and unemotionally, and seemed neither relieved nor sad.

"I had a few more questions relating to the implementation, but that too was discussed matter-of-factly, and the issue was settled. It didn't play a major role in our conversation. We have a great deal to discuss when we see each other, and that was only one issue," says Georg Ratzinger.

Benedict XVI, now Joseph Ratzinger once again, will remain at the Vatican, in the midst of his church but no longer at its center. He will pray and write and talk and have discussions with the two Georgs.

It's quite conceivable that he will be happy. It will be a return home, after seven years and 10 months in an office and world that were not his own.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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