FRANCESCO SALESIO CARDINAL DELLA VOLPE (1844-1916) was essentially a member of the Papal Household for his early career, first as a Privy Chamberlain (1874), then Maestro di Camera (1886) and finally Majordomo (1891). He was named a Cardinal in 1899 as Cardinal Deacon of S. Maria in Aquiro; he became Cardinal Protodeacon in 1907. He served on a number of important Vatican Congregations, including Propaganda Fide (1903) and the Index (1911). He became Prefect of the Vatican Archives in 1908. On May 25, 1914, he was named Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, a post which he held until his death on November 5, 1916. He crowned Pope Benedict XV on September 6, 1914.
The Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals was Cardinal Serafino Vannutelli (right). He was born at Gennazano near Palestrina in the Papal States in 1834. He studied in Rome at the Collegio Capranica and the Collegio Romano, obtaining doctorates in Philosophy and Theology. He subsequently obtained a doctorate in utroque iure. After some experience as a teacher at the Vatican seminary, he became an official in the Mexican Nunciature, during the reign of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico. He then served in the Nunciature in Munich. He was consecrated Archbishop of Nicaea in 1869 so that he could serve as Apostolic Delegate to the countries in Central America and northern and western South America. He was promoted to the Nunciature in Belgium in 1875, and then to Vienna in 1880.
For his services he was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1887, with the title of Santa Sabina. He opted for the title of S. Girolamo degli Schiavoni in 1889. He was named Archbishop of Bologna in January, 1893, but six months later opted for the Suburbicarian Bishopric of Frascati. Just before the death of Leo XIII he was promoted to the Diocese of Porto and Santa Rufina. In December, 1913 he was named Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, and the next May was installed as Bishop of Ostia. He served in the Roman Curia in several offices: he was Prefect of the S.C.of Indulgences and Sacred Relics (1888-1891), Prefect of the S.C. of the Index (1893-1896), Pro-Prefect of the S.C. of Bishops and Regulars (1896-1899), Major Penitentiary (1899-1915), Secretary of the S.C. of the Holy Office (1903-1908), and Prefect of the S.C. Ceremonial (1914-1915). He died in Rome on August 19, 1915.
Pius X had suffered a heart attack in 1913. In the Spring and Summer of 1914 he had been in a frantic state as the European political situation deteriorated into outright war. War was declared by Austria-Hungary against Serbia on August 1, and within days the First World War was in progress. On August 15 the Pope was taken seriously ill, with fever and lung complications. He died on August 20, 1914, possibly of influenza and pneumonia, though the immediate cause was a heart attack.
At the time of the pope's death there were sixty-five cardinals. Pius had created fifty cardinals during his reign, and forty-five of them were still alive. He had created thirteen new cardinals less than three months earlier, on May 25, 1914, but the question was whether these or any cardinals would be able to assemble for a conclave, given the military and political situation. Amazingly, however, fifty-seven of the cardinals took part in the conclave. Cardinal Farley of New York attended, but three North Americans arrived too late. The two Hungarians were unable to attend, and two Italians and a Frenchman excused themselves on the grounds of ill health. One cardinal inside the conclave, Benedetto Lorenzelli (Lucca) was bedridden and unable to be in the Sistine Chapel for the opening ceremonies. The average age of those cardinals in attendance was 64.6.
The assembly of fifty-seven cardinals was all the more amazing seeing that Pius and his Secretary of State, Rafael Merry del Val (right), had offended most of the governments of Europe in one way or another through their rigorous instance on the rights of the Church. The Papacy had denounced the separation of church and state, both in France and Portugal. And in Italy, the Papacy, it should be remembered, had never come to terms with the unification of Italy; the Italian State was still the enemy. But, with the rise of socialism, Pius had permitted Italians to vote in democratic elections, but only if it was to avoid some socialistic take-over. When Socialists actually did rise to power in Berlin in 1918, and the Communists attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria, the policy became more intense and more rigid. This fear became the leit-motif of papal politics for the rest of the century, featuring fear of Communism and the domination of atheistic Russia. Such alternatives as Fascism, Nazism and the Falange were entities that an autocratic Church would have a much more comfortable time doing business with.
The conclave opened on August 31, 1914, with the Mass of the Holy Spirit being celebrated in the Pauline Chapel by Cardinal Domencio Ferrata (Secretary of the Holy Office). The cardinals were divided into two factions, the 'Integrationists' (reactionaries) and the 'Progressives' (conservatives). Pius X's decade-long campaign against "Modernism" ensured that there were fewer moderates than one might have expected. In addition, there was a fear that one of the sides in the World War (England-France and Germany-Austria) might attempt to influence the Conclave to elect a pope who would be favorable to their side in the conflict. The Conclave was therefore filled with more than usual suspicion.
In the first ballot, Cardinal Pietro Maffi (Pisa) had 12 votes, as did Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa (Bologna). From the factional point of view, there were 22 votes for integrationist candidates, and 32 for progressives. (It should be remembered that the 'accessio' had been abandoned by the cardinals in 1903). In the third scrutiny, Della Chiesa had 18 votes and Maffi had 16. In the fourth scrutiny, Della Chiesa rose to 21, and Maffi had dropped to 14.
On September 2, in the fifth scrutiny, Della Chiesa lost one vote, but in the sixth scrutiny, he advanced to 27 votes. In the seventh scrutiny he moved up to 31, and in the eighth, he had 32; Domenico Serafini, OSB (a curial cardinal, only appointed on May 25, who had once been Apostolic Delegate in Mexico) had 24; and Agostino Richelmy (Turin) one. Della Chiesa had a majority, but not a two-thirds majority, and Serafini's integrationists had enough votes to ensure that he never got it. The Conclave faced a potential deadlock.
Next day, September 3, in the ninth scrutiny, Della Chiesa advanced again, to 34 votes, and Serafini had 22. Richelmy still had one. In the tenth scrutiny, on the morning of September 3, 1914, Della Chiesa had 38 votes (an exact 2/3 majority), Domenico Serafini had 18, and Agostino Richelmy one. Giacomo della Chiesa took the name Benedict XV. The examination of Della Chiesa's ballot was demanded, to ensure that he had not given himself the vote that gave him the two-thirds majority. This was a gratuitous insult, implying that Della Chiesa was not above violating the regulations of the Conclave.
Benedict XV immediately replaced the Secretary of State of Pius X, Rafael Merry del Val (an arch-conservative), with Domenico Ferrata (former Nuncio in Paris) and, when he died in October, with Pietro Gasparri. The anti-Modernist reign of terror was beginning to abate.
Benedict XV was crowned at the Vatican on September 6, 1914 by Cardinal Francesco della Volpe, the Cardinal Proto-Deacon. Being one of the self-styled "prisoners of the Vatican", he never took possession of his Cathedral Church, San Giovanni Laterano.
"Sergius", Le pape d' hier, le pape d'aujourd'hui: Benoit XV Pie IX (Paris 1922), chapitre III, "Le conclave de 1914", pp. 25-30. H.E.G. Rope, Benedict XV: The Pope of Peace (Catholic Book Club 1941). John F. Pollard, Benedict XV: The Unknown Pope and the Pursuit of Peace (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group 1999). Francis A. Burkle-Young, Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922 (Lanham MD: Lexington Books 2000). Francis A. Burkle-Young, Passing the Keys: Modern Cardinals, Conclaves, and the Election of the Next Pope (Lanham MD: Madison Books 1999) 11-16.
© 2007 John Paul Adams, CSUN