Conclaves in the Twentieth Century

  • Frederic J. Baumgartner


The pattern of papal elections after 1900 reflected the new stateless papacy imposed on Pius IX and Leo XIII. Both by losing control of the Papal States and legitimizing democracy in secular politics, the papacy moved away from the fusion of ecclesiastical and secular authority that had been a curse for the Church for a millennium. The pope’s official authority became strictly moral and spiritual, yet the popes after Leo found that papal prestige and influence reached far higher levels than had been true since the time of Innocent III. Stalin’s crack, “How many divisions does the pope have?” was relevant for the nineteenth century, but his successors would find that the papacy of the late twentieth century wielded enormous authority in politics by exercising a strictly spiritual office.


Papal State Curia Official John XXIII Church Hierarchy Papal Diplomat 
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  1. 1.
    A. de Waal, Life of Pius X (Milwaukee, 1904), pp. 10–49. This was the first conclave for which reporters were present in large numbers. See The New York Times, August 1–5, 1903.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. O’Connell, Recollections of Seventy Years (Boston, 1934), pp. 337–38.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    G. Zizola, Il conclave storia e segreti: l’elezione papale da San Pietro a Giovanni Paolo II (Rome, 1993 ).Google Scholar
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    Most studies of this conclave state that the cardinal who asked for the check is unknown, but J. Pollard, in The Unknown Pope: Benedict XV (London, 1999), p. 62, says that it was De Lai.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    E Sweeney, “Cardinal O’Connell and the Conclave,” America, 139(1978), pp. 382–83. A letter in ibid., p. 485, argues that Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia, the other American who missed the conclave, persuaded Pius XI.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    F. Burkle-Young, Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878–1922 (Oxford, 2000), p. 149. Merry del Val or an ally allegedly went to Ratti before he was elected to offer his faction’s support if Ratti promised not to make Gasparri the secretary of state.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in R. Anderson, Between the Wars: The Story of Pius XI (Boston, 1977), p. 53.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in A. Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of Dictators (London, 1973), p. 219.Google Scholar
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    F. Burkle-Young, Passing the Keys, 2nd edition (Lanham, Maryl., 2001 ), p. 67.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in P. Hebblethwaite, Popejohn XXIII ( Garden City, N.Y., 1985 ), p. 296.Google Scholar
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    A. Mellioni, “Pope John XXIII: Open Questions for a Biography,” The Catholic Historical Review, 72 (1986), p. 64n.Google Scholar
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    See D. Yallop, In God’s Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paull (Toronto, 1984), for the case that he was murdered.Google Scholar
  16. See J. Cornwell, A Thief in the Night: The Death of Pope John Paul I (London, 1990), for a rebuttal.Google Scholar

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© Frederic J. Baumgartner 2003

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  • Frederic J. Baumgartner

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