Learn more about the papal election process

Learn more about the papal election process

With the recent events in Vatican history, I was curious about the process for the selection of the pope. Fortunately, the Champaign Public Library came through with several titles addressing the papacy and the system of election of the pontiff. As you've heard on the news, this is the first time that a pope has retired from duties since Celestine V in 1294.

In "The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation" by Jon M. Sweeney, we are introduced to Peter Morrone. A virtual hermit in the mountains of northern Italy, Peter kept to himself in a life of prayer and teaching, leading a new order of monks called the Celestine Hermits. In 1292, Pope Nicholas IV dies in office, and the small group of cardinals becomes stalemated on the selection of a new leader for two years.

During this time, Peter writes a letter of foreboding to a dean at the Sacred College. The letter inspires the dean to offer up Peter's name to the cardinals as a possible option for pontiff. The cardinals thought that the election of a holy man dedicated to peace and compassion would solve some of the turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church. Peter is elected and takes on the name of Pope Celestine V. This is where it gets interesting.

Apparently, Celestine creates a wooden hut in the papal apartments, "preferring to live humbly in the midst of splendor." He attempts to put a trio of cardinals in charge of most papal duties but is unsuccessful. Only five months into his papacy, he abdicates his position, only to be imprisoned by the succeeding pope.

It is then that he is said to have uttered the admonition "You have entered like a fox, you will reign like a lion, and you will die like a dog."

The author has provided a fascinating account of Peter's life, commenting that the newly retired Pope Benedict XVI had recently aligned himself with this 13th-century pope, visiting his tomb and showing support and compassion for the man who only wanted to live a quiet and simple life.

As far as the procedures for choosing a new pope, author Greg Tobin explains it all in "Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Election." Details on the plumes of smoke, how the balloting system works, life in the Sistine Chapel and even the expected dress code are all discussed.

Since Tobin has also written fictional works on the papacy, he knows how to provide an interesting storyline. Pope Celestine V is mentioned in this book as well, with a brief look at his election during a time of squabbling Roman families determined to control the papacy. A brief history is included, then the narrative moves on to the nitty gritty of the selection process.

If you're wanting even more information on the popes throughout the centuries, we have two books that might meet your needs. "A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present" by John W. O'Malley is set up chronologically with a listing of each pope, his background and his contribution to the role of religious leader. Maps and pictures are included.

Established historian John Julies Norwich provides more information in "Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy." His book also is arranged chronologically but provides a little more academic content to his descriptions. The reader is given more of a historical and geographic background to accompany the story of the church's popes.

Once I've read the books, read the news reports and see the black and white smoke, I'll be more knowledgeable about the process and its pageantry.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.


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