1878 papal conclave

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The 1878 papal conclave, which resulted from the death of Pope Pius IX on 7 February 1878, met from 18 to 20 February. The conclave followed the longest reign of any other pope since Saint Peter. It was the first election of a pope who would not rule the Papal States. It was the first to meet in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican because the venue used earlier in the 19th century, the Quirinal Palace, was now the palace of the King of Italy, Umberto I.

Papal conclave
February 1878
Dates and location
18–20 February 1878
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Key officials
DeanLuigi Amat di San Filippo e Sorso
Sub-deanCamillo di Pietro
CamerlengoGioacchino Pecci
ProtopriestJosef Friedrich von Schwarzenberg
ProtodeaconProspero Caterini
Elected pope
Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci
Name taken: Leo XIII
Papa Leone XIII.jpeg
← 1846
1903 →

Questions facing the cardinalsEdit

When the cardinals assembled, they faced a dilemma. Should they choose a pope who would continue to espouse Pius IX's reactionary religious and political views, and would continue to refuse to accept Italy's Law of Guarantees guaranteeing the pope religious liberty in the Kingdom of Italy? Or should they turn away from the policies of Pius IX and choose a more liberal pope who could work for reconciliation with the King of Italy? Would choosing such a policy be seen as a betrayal of Pius IX, the self-proclaimed "Prisoner in the Vatican"?

Other broader issues included Church-State relations in Italy, the Third French Republic, Ireland and the United States; the heresy Pope Leo XIII later called Americanism; divisions in the Church caused by the proclamation of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council; and the status of the First Vatican Council, which had been halted suddenly and never concluded. The length of Pope Pius' reign suggested[how?] the cardinals give special consideration to the age and health of the man they elected.


Some 61 of 64 cardinals entered the conclave. Two others arrived too late from New York and Dublin to participate and one did not attend for health reasons. Three of the 61 had participated in the previous conclave in 1846: Luigi Amat di San Filippo e Sorso, Fabio Maria Asquini, and Domenico Carafa della Spina di Traetto.

With what many churchmen believed was the "unstable" and "anti-Catholic" situation in a Rome that was no longer controlled by the Church, some cardinals, notably Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, urged that the conclave be moved outside Rome, perhaps even to Malta.[1] However the Camerlengo, Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, advocated otherwise, and an initial vote among cardinals to move to Spain was overturned in a later vote. The conclave finally assembled in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican on 18 February 1878.

Going into the conclave, Cardinal Pecci was the one candidate favored to be elected, in part because many of the cardinals who headed to Rome had already decided to elect him.[2] In addition to Pecci's competent administration as Camerlengo during the brief sede vacante period up to the conclave, Pecci was seen as the opposite of Pope Pius IX in terms of manner and temperament, and had also had a successful diplomatic career prior to being Archbishop-Bishop of Perugia.[2] Pecci's election was also facilitated in that Alessandro Franchi, the candidate favored by the conservatives, urged his supporters to switch their support to the Camerlengo.[2]

One account reported the voting tabulations without providing its source.[3]

Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), whose reactionary policies the cardinals rejected in selecting the liberal Cardinal Pecci

Ballot 1 (morning 19 February)Edit

On the first ballot, held on the morning of 19 February the votes were

This ballot was ruled invalid because at least one cardinal did not mark his ballot properly.[4]

Ballot 2 (afternoon 19 February)Edit

  • Pecci 26
  • Bilio 7
  • Franchi 2

Ballot 3 (morning 20 February)Edit

  • Pecci 44 – elected

Result, implications, and aftermathEdit

The election of Cardinal Pecci, who took the name of Leo XIII, was a victory for the liberals. Pecci had been an effective bishop whose diocese had moved from the Papal States to the Kingdom of Italy successfully, without Church problems. He was seen as a diplomatic pragmatist with the tact and flexibility opponents of the previous pope believed Pius IX lacked. At 68 Leo was also young enough to do the job without hindrance of health problems, but old enough to offer the prospect of a relatively short reign of ten to fifteen years. Whereas Pius IX was seen as having isolated the Church from international opinion (his confining Jews in ghettos and his treatment of minorities had been condemned by world leaders such as Gladstone), Leo was seen as an "internationalist" who could earn back the Vatican some international respect.

Though always seemingly in poor health and delicate condition, Leo reigned for 25 years. He had the third longest reign of any pope until that time.[a] When he died on 20 July 1903 at the age of 93 he had lived to be older than any of his known predecessors.


Arrived too late to participate[5]
Unavailable through ill-health[5]
Absent 3
Present 61
Africa 0
Latin America 0
North America 0
Asia 0
Europe 61
Oceania 0
Mid-East 0
Italians 40
NEW POPE LEO XIII (1878–1903)


  1. ^ The length of his reign was later surpassed by that of Pope John Paul II.
  2. ^ McCloskey sailed from New York on 9 February[6] and reached Rome on 23 February.[7]
  3. ^ Cardinal Cardoso arrived late and only participated in the final ballot.[9]


  1. ^ Hittinger, Russell (2006). "Pope Leo XIII". In Witte, John; Alexander, Frank S. (eds.). The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature. Columbia University Press. pp. 42–2. ISBN 9780231133586.
  2. ^ a b c Pirie, Valérie (1935). "Leo XIII and His Successors". The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
  3. ^ Jedin, Hubert; Dolan, John Patrick, eds. (1981). History of the Church: The Church in the Industrial age. London: Burns & Oates. p. 5. ISBN 9780860120858. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  4. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. (2000). Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922. Lexington Books. p. 59. ISBN 9780739101148. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b Burkle-Young, Francis A. (2000). Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922. Lexington Books. p. 161. ISBN 9780739101148. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Departure of Cardinal M'Closkey" (PDF). The New York Times. 10 February 1878. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Miscellaneous Foreign Notes" (PDF). The New York Times. 24 February 1878. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  8. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. (2000). Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922. Lexington Books. pp. 159–60. ISBN 9780739101148. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  9. ^ Henry Dodridge, Henry; et al. (1903). The Catholic Church Alone: The One True Church of Christ. New York: Catholic Educational Company. p. 407. Retrieved 4 May 2018.

External linksEdit