Papal conclave, 1922

Papal conclave
February 1922

Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
2–6 February 1922
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Key officials
Dean Vincenzo Vannutelli
Camerlengo Pietro Gasparri
Protopriest Michael Logue
Protodeacon Gaetano Bisleti
Secretary Luigi Sincero
Ballots 14
Elected Pope
Achille Ratti
(Name taken: Pius XI)

After a reign of just eight years, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922 of pneumonia. At his death there were 61 members of the College of Cardinals. However, later that same day, Enrique Almaraz y Santos, the Archbishop of Toledo, died, leaving a college of 60 cardinals to elect Pope Benedict's successor.

53 of the 60 cardinals assembled in the Sistine Chapel on 2 February. Cardinals José María Martín de Herrera y de la Iglesia, Giuseppe Prisco and Lev Skrbenský z Hříště did not attend for reasons of health, whilst the four non-European cardinals – William Henry O'Connell of Boston, Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia, Louis-Nazaire Bégin of Québec City and Joaquim Arcoverde de Albuquerque Cavalcanti of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro – did not arrive in time and missed the conclave.[lower-alpha 1] Because all these four except Cavalcanti (who was ill and had been given a coadjutor archbishop to help governing his archdiocese precisely because of his illness) did aim to make the journey to Rome, Pius XI was to change the rules so that cardinals from distant locations had a better chance of participating in the conclave by extending the time between the death of a Pope and the election of his successor.


The previous five conclaves had produced a constant tic-tacing between conservatives and liberals, from the conservative Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 to the (initially) liberal Pope Pius IX. By the time of his death in 1878 Pius IX had become a reactionary conservative. He however was succeeded by the liberal Pope Leo XIII, who on his death was succeeded by the populist conservative Pope Pius X. In 1914 the liberal Benedict XV, a protégé of the cardinal vetoed as pope in 1903, Mariano Rampolla, was elected. The question many asked was: from which side would the new pope come this time?

Conclave – election of the Archbishop of Milan

Day Ballot Result
1 1 No pope elected
2 2
3 6
4 10
5 14 Pope elected

The 1922 conclave was the most divided conclave in many years. While two of the previous three conclaves had lasted three days or less, the 1922 conclave lasted for five days. It took fourteen ballots for Achille Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan, to reach the two-thirds majority needed for election.

At the conclave, the College of Cardinals was divided into two factions. One conservative faction known as the "irreconcilables"[1][2] and "integrationists"[3] led by the Secretary of the Holy Office Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val favored the policies and style of Pope Pius X.[lower-alpha 2][3][4] The other more conciliatory faction favoring the style and policies of Pope Benedict XV was led by the Cardinal-Camerlengo Pietro Gasparri who had served as Benedict's Secretary of State.[3][4]

Gasparri approached Ratti before voting began on the third day and told him he would urge his supporters to switch their votes to Ratti, who was shocked to hear this. When it became clear that neither Gasparri nor del Val could win, the cardinals approached Ratti, thinking him a compromise candidate not identified with either faction. Cardinal Gaetano de Lai approached Ratti and was believed to have said: "We will vote for Your Eminence if Your Eminence will promise that you will not choose Cardinal Gasparri as your secretary of state". Ratti is said to have responded: "I hope and pray that among so highly deserving cardinals the Holy Spirit selects someone else. If I am chosen, it is indeed Cardinal Gasparri whom I will take to be my secretary of state".[4]

Ratti was elected pope on the conclave's fourteenth ballot on 6 February 1922[4] reportedly receiving 38 votes.[1][2] Upon being elected, the Cardinal Dean Vincenzo Vannutelli, the protopriest Michael Logue and the protodeacon Gaetano Bisleti approached him and Cardinal Vannutelli asked the pope-elect if he accepted his election.[2] It is then reported that Ratti replied "It is God's will".[2] When further pressed for a more explicit answer he replied "As it is God's will, it cannot be refused. Since it is the will of God I must obey" and accepted his election.[2] Upon Ratti's acceptance, the cardinals lowered the canopies above their thrones with only Ratti's canopy remaining unlowered and Cardinal Vannutelli asked the new pope by what name he would be called. Ratti chose "Pius XI", explaining that Pius IX was the pope of his youth and Pius X had appointed him head of the Vatican Library.[4] According to a subsequent report by The New York Times the new Pope also told the cardinals he chose the name Pius because "he wanted a Pius to end the Roman question which had begun under a Pius".[2]

Shortly afterwards white smoke was seen coming from the Sistine Chapel chimney and at around 12:30 p.m. Gaetano Bisleti, the cardinal-protodeacon appeared in the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and announced the election of Ratti as Pope Pius XI.[2]

Pius XI makes his first public appearance in 1922. The coat of arms on the banner is that of Pope Pius IX

As his first act as pope, Pius XI revived the traditional public blessing from the balcony, Urbi et Orbi, ("to the city and to the world"), abandoned by his predecessors since the loss of Rome to the Italian state in 1870.[lower-alpha 3] This suggested his openness to a rapprochement with the government of Italy.[1][2][5] He had earlier given indication of this to the cardinals at the conclave when he explained his choice of name ("a Pius to end the Roman question which had begun under a Pius") and his informing them that he would give the blessing in public from the central balcony. When some of the more conservative cardinals tried to persuade him not to give the blessing from the external balcony, he listened to their arguments for a while and overruled their objections by saying: "Remember, I am no longer a Cardinal. I am the Supreme Pontiff now".[1][2] Also, at Pius XI's first appearance, the banner draped on the balcony displayed the arms of Pius IX—the pope who lost Rome to Italy—rather than the arms of his immediate predecessor Benedict XV.

Shortly after the blessing was imparted, Prince Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere, the Marshal of the Conclave issued a statement by order of the secretary of the conclave:

"His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, while making every reservation in favor of the inviolable rights of the Church and of the Holy See, which rights he has sworn to defend, has given his first blessing from the exterior balcony overlooking the Square of St. Peter's in the special intention that his blessing should be addressed not only to those present in the square, and not only to those in Rome and Italy, but to all nations and all peoples and should bring to the whole world the wish and announcement of that universal pacification we all so ardently desire."[1][2]

It was rumoured that immediately after the election, he decided to appoint Pietro Gasparri as his Cardinal Secretary of State.[4] The contemporary report by The New York Times on the following day 7 February appears to confirm this as it reported that Gasparri, who had served as Benedict XV's Secretary of State was reappointed by the new pope and the reappointment was announced almost immediately after the new pope assumed his pontificate.[1][2] The Pope also received the diplomatic corps and the Papal aristocracy in an audience later in the afternoon.[2]

Pius XI was crowned on 12 February.[1][2] Unlike his immediate predecessor who had his coronation in the Sistine Chapel, Pius' coronation took place in the dais in front of the high altar in Saint Peter's Basilica.


Ratti himself was less easy to categorise in terms of the conservative/liberal divide in ecclesiastical politics than most of his immediate predecessors. A theoretical and political pragmatist, scholars today regard him as a moderate conservative, to the right of Pope Benedict but to the left of Popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX (at the end of his reign) and Pius X. He was also strikingly different from his immediate predecessor. Whereas Benedict was very short, shy and retiring, an aristocratic diplomat in poor health, Ratti was an unusually outgoing cleric for his time, a combination of insightful scholar, meticulous librarian, resourceful diplomat and rugged mountain climber and Alpinist.[1][2][lower-alpha 4]

In his own era the pontificate of Pius XI was of major importance. A number of higher profile popes in the 20th century have tended to overshadow his accomplishments: Pius X, canonised in 1954, began reform of the Mass and fought against Modernism, calling it "a synthesis of all heresies"; Pius XII (controversial only after 1964) steered the Church during the Second World War; the universally loved John XXIII (beatified with Pius IX in 2000); the theologically controversial Paul VI, whose encyclical Humanae vitae warned of the consequences of a coming "contraceptive society"; John Paul I, whose pontificate lasted only 33 days; and the first Polish pope, John Paul II, who appealed to young Catholics, and whose pontificate, the second longest after Pius IX, lasted over 26 years, made him the face of the papacy for a generation of Catholics.

In this company the accomplishments of Pius XI have become overlooked. Along with his predecessor, Benedict XV, he has become one of the twentieth century's "forgotten popes".

This despite Pius' diplomatic efforts to secure Catholic freedom within the arena of European politics, which also ended the Roman Question and led to the establishment of the Vatican City State. His encyclicals denouncing Fascism, Nazism and Communism were much resented in the contemporary dictatorships of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, but were applauded by the rest of the world. His social encyclical, Quadragesimo anno (Forty Years After), continuing the ground-breaking social policies of Leo XIII in Rerum novarum, demanded the end of social inequalities while providing bases for fair working conditions and a just living wage for employees.

Pius XI died in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War.

See also

Duration 5 days
Number of ballots 14
Electors 60
Absent 7
Present 53
Africa 0
Latin America 0
North America 0
Asia 0
Europe 53
Oceania 0
Mid-East 0
Italians 30
NEW POPE PIUS XI (1922–1939)


  1. Cardinal O'Connell himself arrived at the Vatican on 6 February itself, about an hour after the conclave ended--the contemporary report by The New York Times suggests that he arrived either after the announcement of the new Pope's election or at the moment when the new Pope was imparting his first blessing to the crowd. Cardinals Dougherty and Bégin arrived days later.[1][2]
  2. Cardinal Merry del Val had served as the Secretary of State under Pope Pius X
  3. Since 1870 until Pope Pius XI's election every pope had opted to give the Urbi et Orbi blessing from an internal balcony inside St. Peter's Basilica to the congregants within rather than on the central external balcony facing outdoors to the crowds on St. Peter's Square.
  4. The only other modern pope who was noted to have a health regimen and being an active sportsman was Pope John Paul II


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Cardinal Ratti New Pope as Pius XI". The New York Times. 7 February 1922. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 "Cardinal Ratti New Pope as Pius XI, Full Article" (PDF). The New York Times. 7 February 1922. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 Weigel, George (21 April 2005). "Conclaves: Surprises abound in the Sistine Chapel". The Madison Catholic Herald Online. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kertzer, David I. (2014). The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Random House. ISBN 978-0812993462.
  5. Fontenelle, Mrg R (1939). Seine Heiligkeit Pius XI (in German). Alsatia, France. pp. 44–56.

Further reading

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