Papal conclave, August 1978

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Papal conclave
August 1978
Sede vacante.svg
Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
25 August 1978 – 26 August 1978
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Vatican City
Key officials
Dean Carlo Confalonieri
Sub-Dean Paolo Marella
Camerlengo Jean-Marie Villot
Protopriest Josef Frings
Protodeacon Pericle Felici
Secretary Ernesto Civardi
Ballots 4
Elected Pope
Albino Luciani
Name taken: John Paul I

The papal conclave of August 1978, the first of the two conclaves held that year, was convoked after the death of Pope Paul VI on 6 August 1978 at Castel Gandolfo. After the cardinal electors assembled in Rome, they elected Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, as the new pope after four ballots. He accepted the election and took the pontifical name of John Paul I.


The conclave was held for two days from 25 August 1978 to 26 August 1978 at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Proceedings on 25 August 1978 included a Mass celebrated at St. Peter's Basilica by the cardinal electors for divine guidance in their task to elect Pope Paul's successor. Six hours later, the cardinals processed into the Sistine Chapel whilst the chapel choir sang the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Monsignor Virgilio Noè, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, gave the traditional command of Extra omnes ("Everybody out!"), the doors were locked, and then the actual conclave began.

It was the first conclave after the 1970 promulgation of Ingravescentem Ætatem, so cardinals over the age of 80 lost their right to vote.

Papabili and Course of balloting[edit]

Day Ballot Result
1 1 No pope elected
2 2
4 Pope elected

The chapel windows remained closed and the summer heat was almost unbearable. The conclave of August 1978 was the largest ever assembled. Thus, to accommodate the electors, the traditional canopied thrones were replaced with twelve long tables. Karol Wojtyła, Aloísio Lorscheider, and Bernardin Gantin reportedly served as scrutineers during the balloting.

The newly elected Pope John Paul I (on left), with Monsignor Virgilio Noè, then Papal Master of Ceremonies.

The cardinal electors were looking not for a Curial bureaucrat, but rather a warm, pastoral figure along the lines of Pope John XXIII. They also wanted an Italian, given the influential papal role in Italian politics. Among the papabili, or likely candidates to be elected pope, were Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, Corrado Ursi of Naples, and Giovanni Benelli of Florence. However, Benelli actually favoured Albino Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice, who was eventually elected as a candidate of compromise after four ballots; during the third ballot, Johannes Willebrands and António Ribeiro, who sat on either side of the Venetian patriarch, whispered words of encouragement to him as he continued to receive more votes. Jaime Sin told Luciani "You will be the new pope".[1] Luciani had previously said to his secretary that he would decline the papacy if elected,[2] however after Jean-Marie Villot officially asked Luciani whether he accepted his election he humbly exclaimed, "May God forgive you for what you have done," and accepted his election. In honor of his two immediate predecessors, he took John Paul as his regnal name. After the election when Cardinal Sin paid him homage, the new pope said: "You were a prophet, but my reign will be a short one".[1]

On 26 August 1978 at 6:24 p.m. local time (4:24 p.m. UTC), the first signs of smoke—whose color signifies the success or failure of an election—from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel appeared. However, it was unclear which color the smoke was for over an hour; some of the cardinals had personally deposited their notes and tally sheets in the stove, causing black smoke after white had already appeared. Pericle Felici, as the ranking Cardinal Deacon, then stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and delivered the Habemus Papam announcement in Latin, declaring Luciani's election. John Paul I then appeared on the balcony; shortly after his withdrawal, the crowd's applause remained so loud that he was compelled to appear again.

This was the first conclave since 1721 in which three future popes participated–John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI–and the first since 1829 in which two did so.

Eligibility to vote and alleged results[edit]

Several authors have provided what they claim to be the vote totals at the conclave. Cardinals were not required to destroy all notes they took during the conclave.

Yallop tally[edit]

As presented by David Yallop in In God's Name (ISBN 0-553-05073-7), a book which claims that John Paul I was murdered:

  • First Ballot: Siri 25, Luciani 23, Pignedoli 18, Lorscheider 12, Baggio 9, scattered 24.
  • Second Ballot: Siri 35, Luciani 30, Pignedoli 15, Lorscheider 12, scattered 19.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 68, Siri 15, Pignedoli 10, scattered 18.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 99, Siri 11, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Luciani).

Burkle-Young tally[edit]

As presented by Francis A. Burkle-Young in Passing the Keys (ISBN 1-56833-130-4):

  • First Ballot: Siri 25, Luciani 23, Pignedoli 18, Baggio 9, König 8, Bertoli 5, Pironio 4, Felici 2, Lorscheider 2, and 15 others one each.
  • Second Ballot: Luciani 53, Siri 24, Pignedoli 15, Lorscheider, Baggio, Cordeiro, Wojtyła 4 each, Felici 3.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 92, Pignedoli 17, Lorscheider 2.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 102, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Luciani), Nemini (no one) 8.

Thomas-Witts tally[edit]

As presented by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts in PONTIFF (ISBN 0-451-12951-2):

  • First Ballot: same as Burkle-Young's count except 5 votes for Pironio, fourteen candidates with 1.
  • Second Ballot: Luciani 46, Pignedoli 19, Lorscheider 14, Baggio 11, Bertoli 4, others unspecified.
  • Third Ballot: Luciani 66, Pignedoli 21, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Aramburu), others unspecified.
  • Fourth Ballot: Luciani 96, Pignedoli 10, Lorscheider 1 (cast by Aramburu).

David Allen White's biography of the rebel French traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre reports that Lefebvre was alleged to have received a small number of votes during the balloting (variously reported as three or "several"), causing some consternation among the cardinals.

Cardinals ineligible to vote[edit]

Cardinals who reached the age of 80 as of the death of Pope Paul on 6 August 1978, were ineligible to vote in the conclave that began on 25 August. It was the first time that the age limit established by Pope Paul in Ingravescentem Ætatem of 21 November 1970 and Romano Pontifici eligendo of 1 October 1975 applied to a conclave. The same cardinals were excluded from voting in the next conclave on 14 October 1978.

They were:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Modern Heroes of the Church - Leo Knowles". Google Books. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Allen, John L. Jr. (2 November 2012). "Debunking four myths about John Paul I, the 'Smiling Pope'". National Catholic Reporter. 

External links[edit]

Duration 2 days
Number of ballots 4
Electors 111
Africa 13
Latin America 19
North America 11
Asia 8
Europe 56
Oceania 4
Italians 26