Papal conclave, 1963

Papal conclave, 1963

The Papal conclave of 1963 was convoked following the death of Pope John XXIII on June 3 of that same year in the Apostolic Palace. After the cardinal electors assembled in Rome, the conclave to elect John's successor began on June 19 and ended two days later, on June 21, after six ballots. The cardinals elected Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini, then Archbishop of Milan, as the new pope. He accepted the election and took the pontifical name of "Paul VI".

Issues facing the conclave

John XXIII's death left the future of the Second Vatican Council in the balance, as the election of an anti-Council pope could have severely curbed the Council's role and influence in Roman Catholic Church. The battle between conservatives and liberals was reflected in the struggle during the conclave between Council supporters and opponents. The leading "papabile" supporter of the Council was seen as Giovanni Battista Montini of Milan, while its main opponent was seen as Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, who in 1958 had been seen as Pope Pius XII's preferred successor. Reportedly, John XXIII had sent oblique signals indicating that he thought Montini would make a fine pope.

The conclave was held from June 19 to June 21, at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

The case of Cardinal Siri

As with the 1958 papal conclave, rumours have persisted that Cardinal Siri received the two-thirds required for a valid election, accepted the cardinals' decision and declared he would be known as Pope Gregory XVII, but had then announced "Non accepto" ("I do not accept"), allegedly under pressure. Former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin wrote in 1991 that Siri had indeed received the required majority but had declined after what Martin called a "little brutality."ref|Martin Martin even claimed that a cardinal had consulted with someone outside the Chapel while the conclave was still in progress, thus constituting a breach in conclave rules.

When asked two decades later whether in both the 1958 and 1963 conclaves he had initially been elected as pontiff, Siri responded "I am bound by the secret. This secret is horrible. I would have books to write about the different conclaves. Very serious things have taken place. But I can say nothing."ref|Siri However, it is worthy of note that Siri fully submitted to the authority of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II.

Election of Giovanni Battista Montini

The 1963 conclave was the largest ever assembled until that time. There were eighty-two cardinals, but owing to his house arrest, József Mindszenty could not travel to Rome, whilst Carlos María de la Torre did not participate owing to his advanced age and chronic health problems. Of the eighty cardinals who did participate, eight had been elevated by Pope Pius XI, twenty-seven by Pius XII, and the remainder by John XXIII. Each cardinal elector was admitted one aide.

It is rumoured that the liberal faction, in order to remind the electors that the pope does not have to be Italian, had initially voted for Leo Cardinal Suenens of Mechelen-Brussels and Franz Cardinal König of Vienna.

The favourite candidate, Giovanni Battista Montini, was duly elected after only six ballots. By the fourth ballot on June 20, according to "Time" Magazine, the Milanese archbishop only needed 54 additional votes to obtain the required number of votes. Anti-Council cardinals, who wanted to bring Vatican II to a swift conclusion, had allegedly attempted to block Montini's election in the early balloting. (Gustavo Testa, an old friend of John XXIII, had subsequently lost his temper in the Chapel and demanded that the intransigents stop impeding Montini’s path.) When officially asked by Eugène Cardinal Tisserant if he accepted his election, Montini replied, "Accepto, in nomine Domini" ("I accept, in the name of the Lord"). In a break with recent pontifical names, Montini choose to be known as Pope Paul VI.

At 11:22 a.m., white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signifying the successful election of a new pope. Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, in his capacity as the senior Cardinal Deacon, announced Montini's election in the traditional Latin; before Ottaviani had even finished saying Montini's name, the crowd beneath the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica erupted into applause.


# Malachi Martin, "The Keys of this Blood" (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1991) pp. 607-608.
# Louis Hubert Remy, "The Pope: Could He Be Cardinal Siri?" (1986) translated into English by Heidi Hagen for “The Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes” - No. 55 - December 1987.

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