"I will observe absolute and perpetual secrecy."

Thus goes the oath that cardinals participating in the next papal election will swear repeatedly in the course of a conclave. 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.

Virginia Tech History Professor Fred Baumgartner explores the high drama of this event in his book Behind Locked Doors - A History of the Papal Elections, just released by Palgrave MacMillan press.

The papal elections of Christianity's first millennium were 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 political pressure from Catholic rulers of Europe, wagering and bookmaking (even by the Cardinals), and eventually the pressure of journalistic scrutiny. Gradually, the once-public procedure turned into one of the most secretive election of any kind.

Baumgartner notes that the irony of studying the history of papal elections is that there is a great deal more firsthand source material for the conclave of 1549-50, for example, than for the most recent ones. For part of his research, he spent a month in the Vatican archives, perusing various manuscripts, written in either Latin or Italian.

"There is a vast store of rich material to work from and Fred Baumgartner uses it to its utmost detailing the bickering and blatant politicking that goes on behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel in this important and timely book," the book's jacket reveals.

Baumgartner prefers to be historian and not a 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 ten 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 the role of astrology in the scientific revolution.

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

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