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That was quick - but how long have papal conclaves lasted in the past?

The speedy election of this new pope was not a break from tradition…

White smoke pouring out of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at 18.18 on 16 October 1978, announcing the election by conclavists of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.
White smoke pouring out of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at 18.18 on 16 October 1978, announcing the election by conclavists of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II.
Image: AP Photo/Press Association Images

GONE IS THE historical memory in the Roman Catholic Church of conclaves that dragged on for up to three years – modern-day papal elections last a few days at most and – as seen yesterday evening  – can take as little as two days.

Here are the durations of the last eight papal conclaves, which reveal that stand-offs between reformers and traditionalists are nothing new:

1914: Meeting just after World War I broke out, cardinals took three days (10 rounds of voting) to elect Giacomo Della Chiesa, who became pope Benedict XV. The election was tough because of opposition from traditionalists in the Vatican.

1922: The longest conclave of the 20th century took five days (14 votes), following a similar stand-off. Archbishop of Milan Ambrogio Ratti became Pius XI in the same year as Benito Mussolini’s fascist coup d’etat.

1939: Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli – a German-speaking Vatican diplomat – was picked virtually uncontested in just two days (three votes). He became Pius XII just as the world was exploding into a new global conflict.

1958: Cardinal Angelo Roncalli – the patriarch of Venice – becomes John XXIII in four days (11 votes). The election was a close run against Armenian Catholic Patriarch Krikor Bedros Aghajanian. He came to be known as “Good Pope John”.

1963: Giovanni Montini is elected in three days (six votes) and becomes Paul VI with the Roman Catholic Church steeped in a climate of reforms with the Second Vatican Council, which revolutionised rituals to modernize the Church.

1978: Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani becomes John Paul I in two days (four votes). He was said to be reluctant to accept the nomination. He died after just 33 days in office, sparking multiple conspiracy theories.

1978: Polish outsider Karol Wojtyla is elected after three days (eight votes), apparently with an overwhelming majority. He becomes John Paul II – the first non-Italian pope since Utrecht-born Adrian VI in the 16th century.

2005: John Paul II’s long-serving doctrinal enforcer and dean of the college of cardinals, Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger, is elected after two days (four votes). The runner-up was reportedly Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio.

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- © AFP, 2013

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