To the surprise of no one except, it would appear, the New York Times, black smoke rose above the Sistine Chapel this morning, signalling that the College of Cardinals has not yet elected a new Pope.
VATICAN CITY — Black smoke billowed from a makeshift copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, signaling that the 115 cardinals of the Catholic Church eligible to vote for a new pope had again failed to muster majority support for a successor to Benedict XVI and that balloting would continue until they do.
A first vote ended inconclusively on Tuesday, and the inky black smoke a day later indicated continuing divisions in two subsequent ballots on Wednesday among the cardinals over what kind of pope they want to confront the pressing, sometimes conflicting, demands for change after years of scandal.
Of course, no pope has been elected so early since Pope Pius XII on the eve of World War II -- and then only because he entered the conclave as the virtually unquestioned successor of his predecessor. And while two recent popes -- John Paul I and Benedict XVI -- have been elected on the fourth ballot, even that is somewhat early by historical standards. It is, of course, possible that we will see a new pope as early as this afternoon, but it seems much more likely to me that the next Bishop of Rome will not be chosen until tomorrow at the earliest, unless the balloting this morning left one cardinal within a handful of votes. Indeed, it would not surprise me to see this conclave drag out through Friday, given the number of potential candidates mentioned in the days leading up to the conclave and the seemingly fractured views of the cardinal electors as to what would be needed in a new Pope following Benedict's resignation.