VATICAN CITY, (Reuters): Black smoke rose from above the Sistine Chapel for a second day on Wednesday after a secret conclave of cardinals held two more inconclusive votes for a new pope to lead the troubled Church.
The 115 cardinal electors entered the conclave in the Sistine’s Renaissance splendour on Tuesday and held their first inconclusive ballot that evening.
Black smoke emerged again on Wednesday after the cardinals held two morning ballots. Before returning to the conclave they had prayed for inspiration from God to choose a leader who can lead the Church out of scandal and internal strife.
Two more sessions will be held on Wednesday afternoon under a schedule that sees four votes each day. When the new pontiff is elected, white smoke will billow from the makeshift chimney above the chapel and the bells of St Peter’s Basilica will ring.
The black smoke on Wednesday caused disappointment among excited crowds braving incessant rain in St. Peter’s Square, but few had expected a decision so soon after the conclave began.
“You can’t expect a microwave pope. It’s a process. These men are trying carefully to work out who should be the next to lead them. I am kind of happy it wasn’t white smoke because I just showed up,” 34-year-old American artist and missionary Adrian Britton told Reuters in the sprawling square.
“I am a bit disappointed because we wanted to see the white smoke, and we’re only here for one more day,” said 25-year-old Austrian student Daniela Weber as she stood among the hundreds of spectators sheltering under umbrellas.
The cardinals face a tough task in finding a leader capable of facing scandals over priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia.
The wave of problems are thought to have contributed to Pope Benedict’s decision in February to become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.
With several leading candidates, or “papabili”, the cardinals are expected to need several ballots to reach a decision on who will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, with many experts predicting white smoke on Thursday.
“A new pope by tomorrow,” was the headline in Wednesday’s La Stampa newspaper after days of feverish speculation about the most likely new pontiff in Italian media.
Only one man since the start of the 20th century, Pius XII in 1939, was elected within three ballots, with seven ballots on average required over the last nine conclaves. Benedict was clear frontrunner in 2005 and elected after only four ballots.
Pilgrims and tourists began arriving in St. Peter’s Square early in the morning, hoping to get a glimpse of history by spotting white smoke.