Religion: Behind the Conclave Walls

For years apostles of reform in the Roman Catholic Church have advocated sweeping changes in the election of the Pope. In the heady atmosphere of the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council was bringing change to so many other areas, enthusiasts envisioned elected delegations of bishops, priests, even lay men and women trooping to Rome to choose the next Pontiff. Others, more realistic, argued that the body of papal electors should be expanded to include the sort of worldwide sampling of bishops who attended the synods convened by Pope Paul VI.

In 1975, when Paul issued a revised set of rules for...

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