This is a story about being in the right place at the right time.
My father, Otto Hofstetter, travelled from Switzerland to Rome, invited by a friend in the summer of 1903. At the time he arrived in Rome, a papal conclave was occurring due to the death of Pope Leo XIII.
From Juy 31 to Aug. 4, the cardinals met to determine a successor. Their first choice was Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, the man who had been Leo’s secretary of state.
At that time, Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the three emperors who had veto power over the cardinals’ choice. Otto was in the room when the emperor said, “Non placet,” which meant: “He’s not acceptable.” The emperor continued, saying Rampollo was too power-hungry, too greedy for the Holy Roman Empire, thus dashing Rampolla’s hopes. Instead, the cardinals chose Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, patriarch of Venice, who took the name of Pope Pius X and ruled for 11 years.
One of the first things Pius X did was to change the process of choosing a new pope. He formally abolished the power of veto of heads of state, stating that anyone who dared introduce a civil veto in the conclave would be excommunicated. And of course, there has been no veto by a head of state since.
I remember my father telling me this story. He was present when the emperor vetoed the first choice of the cardinals. That was the last time a civic voice had a say in who was to be the next pope.
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