Virginia Tech history professor Fred Baumgartner has spent many years researching the process and history of papal elections. He can expound on various queries about the process, from the most basic to those most recently imposed by John Paul II.

He explores the high drama of the conclave in his book Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections, released in 2003 by Palgrave MacMillan press, and newly released in paperback. For part of his research, Baumgartner spent a month in the Vatican archives, perusing various manuscripts, written in either Latin or Italian.

Baumgartner can attest that wagering and bookmaking is nothing new (even the Cardinals participated). The papal elections of Christianity’s first millennium were very much public affairs. By 1159, however, the traditional phrase “with the consent of all the brethren of Rome” was eliminated as a small group selected the pontiff. Through the centuries, the elections were subject to various kinds of pressure, both political and most recently, the rigors of journalistic scrutiny. Gradually, the once-public procedure has turned into one of the most secretive election of any kind, anywhere.

Baumgartner is particularly well-versed in how this conclave will differ from past ones. For example, cardinals participating in this papal election will swear repeatedly “I will observe absolute and perpetual secrecy.” It is an oath that all others who are present within the precincts of the conclave (secretaries, physicians, confessors, and housekeepers) also swear under pain of excommunication. This oath, derived from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution on papal elections (published in 1996), is the most recent addendum to a process already shrouded in secrecy.

Baumgartner prefers the roll of historian rather than prognosticator. “There is an old saying in Rome that he who enters the conclave as pope comes out a cardinal,” shares Baumgartner. “Yet three of the 10 popes who reigned in the 20th century were the clear-cut favorites going into the election.”

Although he believes that there is no clear favorite at this point for the next election, Baumgartner also points out that “St. Malachy told us 900 years ago who the next pope will be, Cardinal Carlo Martini, archbishop emeritus of Milan. Malachy’s prophecies, which are brief mottoes that supposedly have identified every pope since 1143, tells us that the next pope will be de Gloria olivae, “the glory of the olive,” and who better fits that than Cardinal Martini?! Regardless of whether one sees Malachy’s prophecies as authentic or fraudulent, he has had as good a record in predicting popes as journalists, bookmakers, or historians.”

Baumgartner is the author of seven other books, including Longing for the End: A History of Millennialism in Western Civilization, Radical Reactionaries: The Political Thought of the French Catholic League, Louis XII, France in the Sixteenth Century, and From Spear to Flintlock: A History of War in Europe to the French Revolution. He has participated in numerous scholarly conferences and published in many scholarly journals. His topics have ranged from "The Final Demise of the Medieval Knight in France" to "Sunspots or Sun’s Planets: Jean Tarde and the Sunspot Controversy of the Early Seventeenth Century" to "The Origins of the Provençal School of Astronomy." He also has written articles for The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of the Reformation, and the Encyclopedia of the Renaissance.

Baumgartner is a member of several historical groups, including the Society for French Historical Studies, The Southern Historical Association, and the American Catholic Historical Association, of which he is immediate past president. He has reviewed manuscripts for several publishers. Baumgartner’s current projects include a study of declaring war in early modern Europe.

Baumgartner earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and his bachelor’s degree at Mount Saint Paul College in Waukesha, WI.

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