Papal conclave, 1922

Papal conclave, 1922

After a reign of just eight years, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922 of pneumonia. At his death there were 61 members of the College of Cardinals. However, just one day later, Enrique Cardinal Almaraz y Santos, the Archbishop of Toledo, died, leaving a college of 60 cardinals to elect Pope Benedict's successor.

53 of the 60 cardinals assembled in the Sistine Chapel on 2 February. Cardinals José María Martín de Herrera y de la Iglesia, Giuseppe Prisco and Lev Skrbenský z Hříště did not attend for reasons of health, whilst the four non-European cardinals - William Henry O'Connell of Boston, Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia, Louis-Nazaire Bégin of Québec City and Joaquim Arcoverde de Albuquerque Cavalcanti of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro - did not arrive in time and missed the conclave. Because all these four except Cavalcanti "did aim to make the journey to Rome", Pius XI was to change the rules so that cardinals from distant locations had a better chance of participating in the conclave by extending the time between the death of a Pope and the election of his successor.


The previous five conclaves had produced a constant tic-tacing between conservatives and liberals, from the conservative Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 to the (initially) liberal Pope Pius IX. By the time of his death in 1878 Pius IX had become a reactionary conservative. He however was succeeded by the liberal Pope Leo XIII, who on his death was succeeded by the populist conservative Pope Pius X. In 1914 the liberal Benedict XV, a protegé of the cardinal vetoed as pope in 1903, Mariano Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro, was elected. The question many asked was: from which side would the new pope come this time?

Conclave - election of the Archbishop of Milan

The 1922 conclave was the most divided conclave in many years. While two of the previous three conclaves had lasted three days or less, the 1922 conclave lasted for five days. It took fourteen ballots for "Achille Cardinal Ratti", the Archbishop of Milan, to reach the two-thirds majority needed for election.


Ratti himself was less easy to categorise in terms of the conservative/liberal divide than most of his immediate predecessors. Most regarded him as a moderate conservative, to the right of Pope Benedict but to the left of Popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX (at the end of his reign) and Pius X. He was also strikingly different from his predecessor. Whereas Benedict was an aristocratic diplomat in poor health, Ratti was an unusual combination of a scholar, librarian, diplomat and talented mounted climber.

In other eras Pius XI would count as a major pope. However he had the misfortune in the twentieth century of competing for historic profile with a number of high profile popes: Pius X, who was canonised; Pope Pius XII, the controversial pope during the Second World War; the acclaimed Pope John XXIII (later declared 'Blessed'), the theologically controversial Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, famous simply for the shortness of his reign (33 days) and for controversies over his death; and Pope John Paul II, who, ruling the Church for over a generation, became something of an icon for the Papacy. In that context Pope Pius XI has tended to be overlooked and overshadowed, joining his predecessor Benedict XV as one of the twentieth century's "forgotten popes". Pius XI died in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War.

ee also

*Cardinal electors in Papal conclave, 1922

*Reference:Francis A. Burkle-Young, "Papal Elections in the Age of Transition 1878-1922" published 2000 by Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0-7391-0114-5

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