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Papal conclave, August 1978

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Papal conclave, August 1978
Dates August 25–August 26, 1978
Location Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Dean Carlo Confalonieri
Vice Dean Paolo Marella
Camerlengo Jean-Marie Villot
Protodeacon Pericle Felici
Ballots Pope elected after 4 ballots
Elected Pope Albino Luciani
(took name John Paul I)

The Papal conclave of August 1978, the first of the two conclaves held in the year 1978, was convoked after the death of Pope Paul VI on August 6 at Castel Gandolfo. After the cardinal electors assembled in Rome, the conclave to elect Paul's successor began on August 25 and ended the next day, on 26 August, after four ballots. The cardinals elected Albino Cardinal Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice, as the new pope. He accepted the election and took the pontifical name of John Paul I.


The conclave was held from August 25 to August 26, at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Proceedings on August 25 included a Mass celebrated at St. Peter's Basilica by the cardinal electors for divine guidance in their task to elect Pope Paul's successor. Six hours later, the cardinals processed into the Sistine Chapel whilst the chapel choir sang the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Archbishop Virgilio Noè, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, gave the traditional command of Extra omnes ("Everybody out!"), the doors were locked, and then the actual conclave began.

Papabili and Course of balloting

Because the conclave took place during the summer and no windows were permitted to be open in the chapel, the heat was almost unbearable. It was so hot even outside the conclave that the American John Cardinal Cody took three showers in one night to cool himself. Up to this point in time, the conclave of August 1978 was the largest ever assembled. Thus, to accommodate the electors, the traditional canopied thrones were replaced with twelve long tables. Karol Cardinal Wojtyła, Aloísio Cardinal Lorscheider, and Bernardin Cardinal Gantin allegedly served as scrutineers during the balloting.

File:New pope jp1.jpg

The cardinals electors were looking not for a Curial bureaucrat, but rather a warm, pastoral figure along the lines of Pope John XXIII. They also wanted an Italian, given the influential papal role in Italian politics. Among the papabili, or likely candidates to be elected pope, were Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Corrado Cardinal Ursi of Naples, and Giovanni Cardinal Benelli of Florence. However, Cardinal Benelli actually favoured Albino Cardinal Luciani of Venice, who was eventually elected as a candidate of compromise after four ballots; during the third ballot, Johannes Cardinal Willebrands and António Cardinal Ribeiro, who sat on either side of the Venetian patriarch, whispered words of encouragement to him as he continued to receive more votes. After Jean-Marie Villot officially asked Luciani whether he accepted his election, he humbly exclaimed, "May God forgive you for what you have done," before accepting. In honor of his two immediate predecessors, he took John Paul I as his regnal name.

At 6:24 p.m., the first signs of smoke—whose colour signifies the success or failure of an election—from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel appeared. However, it was unclear which colour the smoke was for over an hour; some of the cardinals had personally deposited their notes and tally sheets in the stove, causing black smoke after white had already appeared. Pericle Cardinal Felici, as the ranking Cardinal Deacon, then stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and delivered the Habemus Papam announcement in Latin, declaring Luciani's election. John Paul then too appeared on the balcony; shortly after his withdrawal, the crowd's applause remained so loud that he was compelled to appear again.

This conclave was unusual in the fact that the future Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were also present. This made it the first conclave since 1721 in which three future popes participated, and the first since 1829 in which there had been more than one.

Eligibility to vote and alleged results

Several authors have provided what they claim to be the vote totals at the conclave. Although this evidence must be viewed as questionable, it cannot be dismissed out of hand. Details of a conclave cannot be revealed by those involved under pain of excommunication, but this was the first conclave which excluded cardinals over the age of 80 (their ineligibility having been decreed by Paul VI in 1970). Cardinals over 80 are still allowed to participate in the preparatory meetings, but during the 1978 conclaves, they were not required to take the same oath of secrecy as the electors. It is possible that one of these elderly cardinals may have revealed things they learned, though after the preparatory meetings were over the superannuated cardinals never entered the conclave itself. Also, cardinals under 80 were not required to destroy all notes they took during the conclave.

Under the rules introduced for the 2005 conclave, cardinals over 80 are required to take the same oath of secrecy if they want to participate in the preparatory meetings. All cardinal electors are required to surrender any notes they may have taken in order to be burned along with ballots.

Yallop tally

As presented by David Yallop in In God's Name (ISBN 0-553-05073-7), a book which claims that John Paul I was murdered:

  • First Ballot: Siri 25, Luciani 23, Pignedoli 18, Lorscheider 12, Baggio 9, scattered 24.
  • Second Ballot: Siri 35, Luciani 30, Pignedoli 15, Lorscheider 12, scattered 19.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 68, Siri 15, Pignedoli 10, scattered 18.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 99, Siri 11, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Luciani).

Burkle-Young tally

As presented by Francis A. Burkle-Young in PASSING THE KEYS (ISBN 1-56833-130-4):

  • First Ballot: Siri 25, Luciani 23, Pignedoli 18, Baggio 9, König 8, Bertoli 5, Pironio 4, Felici 2, Lorscheider 2, and 15 others one each.
  • Second Ballot: Luciani 53, Siri 24, Pignedoli 15, Lorscheider, Baggio, Cordeiro, Wojtyła 4 each, Felici 3.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 92, Pignedoli 17, Lorscheider 2.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 102, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Luciani), Nemini (no one) 8.

Thomas-Witts tally

As presented by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts in PONTIFF (ISBN 0-451-12951-2):

  • First Ballot: same as Burkle-Young's count except 5 votes for Pironio, fourteen candidates with 1.
  • Second Ballot: Luciani 46, Pignedoli 19, Lorscheider 14, Baggio 11, Bertoli 4, others unspecified.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 66, Pignedoli 21, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Aramburu), others unspecified.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 96, Pignedoli 10, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Aramburu).

David Allen White's biography of the rebel French traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre reports that Lefebvre was alleged to have received a small number of votes during the balloting (variously reported as three or "several"), causing some consternation among the cardinals. Lefebvre was not a cardinal, and casting a vote for a non-cardinal in a papal election is highly unusual, though permitted by Church law.

Cardinals over 80 in 1978 Papal conclaves

This is a list of Roman Catholic cardinals over the age of 80 as of the death of Pope Paul VI on August 6, 1978. As such, they were ineligible to vote in the Papal conclave beginning August 25 to elect Paul's successor, according to the motu proprio Ingravescentem aetatem, of November 21, 1970 and the apostolic constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo of October 1, 1975.

Because Pope John Paul I died after only thirty-three days in office without creating any cardinals, and none of the cardinals who were eligible to vote turned eighty between John Paul I's election and the beginning of the second conclave on October 14 that elected Pope John Paul II, the lists of over-age cardinals for the two 1978 conclaves are identical.

The cardinals ineligible to participate in the two 1978 conclaves because they were at least eighty years old are listed below, arranged by date of promotion to the cardinalate.

Cardinals elevated by Pope Pius XII

Cardinals elevated by Pope John XXIII

Cardinals elevated by Pope Paul VI

See also


Duration 2 days
Number of ballots 4
Electors 111
Africa 13
Latin America 19
North America 11
Asia 8
Europe 56
Oceania 4
Italians 26

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