VATICAN CITY — This time there was no doubt. There was no new pope yet, and the mystery of who — and when — was as thick as the unmistakable heavy black smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
As thousands waited in a cold night rain in St. Peter’s Square, the cardinals signaled Tuesday they had failed on their first attempt to find a leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and their troubled church.
“They definitely got the color right this time,” agreed Father Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
That was thanks to special smoke flares lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back for another day of voting Wednesday.
Tuesday’s drama unfolded against the backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation and the exposure of deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether they need a manager to clean up the Vatican’s dysfunctional bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.
Surrounded by Michelangelo’s imposing frescoes portraying the beginning and the end of the world, cardinals locked themselves into the Sistine Chapel following a final appeal for unity by their dean and set about the business of electing the 266th pope.