What Does a Cardinal Read during the Conclave?


Once the cardinals enter the conclave and the doors of the Sistine Chapel are locked, the logistics involved in electing a new pope are quite involved – and also quite time-consuming.

During the actual voting, each cardinal-elector approaches the altar, recites a solemn oath in Latin, and deposits his paper ballot in a special urn.  After all the ballots are collected, they are then taken out and read aloud one by one.  So except for the time when a cardinal is in the process of bringing his own ballot forward, he is sitting and waiting for the other 114 electors to do so.

October 1978 Conclave - Associated Press

October 1978 Conclave – Associated Press

In other words, there is a considerable amount of “down time” during a papal conclave.

Naturally, some of the cardinals like to bring along something to read.

In his biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel relates an amusing anecdote from the second conclave of 1978, in which Cardinal Karol Wojtyla would be elected pope.

As Weigel tells it:

It is known that Wojtyla occupied Cell 91 in the Apostolic Palace, and that he took a Marxist philosophical journal into the Sistine Chapel to read during the lengthy process of ballot counting; when asked by a chaffing colleague whether that wasn’t a bit scandalous, he smiled and replied that his conscience was clear.

So now, thirty-five years later, what will the cardinals be bringing with them to read during the conclave that begins this Tuesday?

There are the seemingly obvious choices of course, like the Liturgy of the Hours, or Guns and Ammo.

But one well-known and highly respected American priest, Father C. John McCloskey, has another recommendation.  In a book review titled “Cardinals at the Conclave:  Read This,”  Fr. McCloskey suggests that the blueprint for the Church of the twenty-first century, which every cardinal-elector should read, is contained in the new book Evangelical Catholicism, by…drum roll…George Weigel.

Evangelical_CatholicismAnyone familiar with George Weigel’s work shouldn’t be surprised by this.  He is, as Fr. McCloskey says, “our greatest observer of the global Catholic Church.”  Of course, Fr. McCloskey is no slouch himself.  That being the case, any attempt by me to explain McCloskey explaining Weigel explaining the Church would be woefully pathetic.  Therefore I will resort to quoting, at length.

From Fr. McCloskey’s review at the National Catholic Register:

So where does “Evangelical Catholicism” come in? Weigel puts it this way:

“In the catechetical-devotional Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation Church, the Catholic learned about Jesus Christ through brief catechism formulas that aptly summed up the Church’s doctrine about the Son of God who became the son of Mary. Evangelical Catholicism begins not with knowing about Jesus, but with knowing Jesus.”

As Weigel explains, “Evangelical Catholicism proclaims the great gift of friendship with Jesus Christ, not as one attractive possibility in a supermarket of spiritualities, but as the God-given and unique means of salvation for everyone.”

George Weigel

George Weigel

Weigel proceeds to explain in 10 subchapters how his evangelical vision syncs with getting to know Christ in and through the Church — meaning the sacraments, conversion of life, active participation in acts of charity, communal worship, reading of the word of God and understanding and embracing the Church as hierarchical, with a variety of vocations, all converging on holiness as their goal.

The second part of this book grapples with the reform of the Church. Although Weigel’s ancestry is German, he certainly is no Martin Luther. There is hardly a part of the Church for which he does not have finely honed and thorough recommendations, from the papacy on down, including the Curia, bishops, laity, priests, liturgy — and the list goes on. His advice is sharp and to the point, but also charitable and understanding.

Read the rest of Fr. McCloskey’s review here.

And then read Evangelical Catholicism, by George Weigel.

Who knows?  Maybe someday you’ll be taking part in a papal conclave yourself.  With Weigel under your belt, you’ll be one step ahead of the game already and you can catch up on that Guns and Ammo.


The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

John White lives in the Chicago area with his wife and seven children.

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