Can the man whom the Catholic cardinals pick as pope decline the offer? Has it ever happened? -- C.W., of Belleville
Whether it's the U.S. presidency or the Roman Catholic Church, the last thing you'd want is to force the leadership of one of the world's most powerful institutions on someone who doesn't want it.
That's why once the election is decided, the dean of the College of Cardinals gives the pope-elect one last chance to back down by asking, "Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?" At that point, the winner theoretically could refuse the offer and send the cardinals back to their deliberations.
But unless the man suddenly had a severe case of last-second butterflies, it probably would never happen, says Dr. Thomas Madden, a professor of history and director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at St. Louis University.
It's almost a foregone conclusion that the cardinals will choose one of their own from within that secluded conclave, which soon will gather. So, Madden says, any uninterested cardinal who finds himself being seriously considered would tell the others he didn't want the job long before a final vote was ever taken.
Moreover, even if he were elected and declined at the last second, you'd never know it unless there was a serious leak because the cardinals are sworn to secrecy. So while many likely have turned down the chance to be pope, Madden said he knows of no cases of that refusal becoming public.
"Oh, I'm sure there are cardinals who don't want to be pope," Madden said. "But anyone who's really being considered would not even go to a vote unless the person was interested. And if they did elect somebody and that person declined, you would never know about it. They would just vote for someone else."
That wasn't always necessarily the case, he said. Until Pope Nicholas II reformed the papal election procedure during a meeting of bishops in 1059, selecting a new pontiff wasn't exactly an angelic endeavor.
"Frequently the choices were just made by acclamation by the people of Rome," Madden said. "You would just get lots of people all screaming the names of someone. And, in that case, it wasn't unusual to pick someone who said, 'No, not me! I don't want it!' And they would move on to someone else."
No wonder. Even though the pope today still may be the target of crazed assassins, he is generally respected or revered by most. Centuries ago, popes often faced a much more chaotic world filled with all kinds of political intrigues.
"Being pope used to be a pretty dangerous job," Madden said. "I mean the stakes were very high back then. Often, you would have kings or local lords --in some cases like Frederick II (in 1241), who actually imprisoned the cardinals and wouldn't let them eat until they agreed to vote for the person he wanted as pontiff. I mean, you had one (Robert Somercotes) die of starvation, because they wouldn't let him eat.
"Or, there were cases like in the 12th century where the cardinals kind of broke off into two groups and each one elected their own pope. And one group said, 'Well, we elected him first,' and the other said, 'Well, we had more cardinals.'"
Is it any wonder some may have turned down the office? Still, I can find only one short reference to any refusals becoming public. According to a recent story explaining the election process by Kevin Eckstrom and Alessandro Speciale for the Religion News Service, St. Philip Benizi actually fled the conclave and hid until another man was elected in 1271. The story also had St. Charles Borromeo declining election in the 1500s and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine following suit in the 1600s.
Madden, who recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about popes who have stepped down, says he does not know whether those three actually declined the offer or took themselves out of the running beforehand. In any case, you'd likely never find out today unless a cardinal accidentally left his cellphone on.
I am trying to locate what channel "Call the Midwife" is on. I bought the first season on DVD, but no one can tell me where to see it. -- Mary Ann Spicer, of Cahokia
Hey, get that water boiling and the diapers ready. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will give birth to the second eight-week season of that popular British series starting at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 31, on KETC-TV, Channel 9.
In the meantime, I hope you didn't miss the Christmas special that had the nuns and midwives finding an abandoned baby on the convent door. If you did, you can download the video from amazon.com. To pass the time, you might also buy Jennifer Worth's series of novels, on which the show is based. You also can find in-depth show information at www.pbs.org.
What two countries have flags that have a map of the countries on them?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: Your word of the day: Phloem (or phloem bundles) is what you call those icky stringy things you pull off a banana after you've peeled it. While the plant is growing, they conduct and distribute sugars and other dissolved foods within the fruit.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org