What is a conclave?

Agence France-Presse
Here is a quick rundown of how a pope gets elected by the cardinal electors.

CONCLAVE. Cardinal electors choose the new pope in a secret election called the conclave. Photo from AFP

VATICAN CITY – Cardinals from around the world will meet under Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel next week to elect a new leader of the Catholic Church after Benedict XVI’s resignation.

The tradition of cardinals voting dates back to the Middle Ages – a time when the idea of sovereigns being elected, albeit by a very restricted group of their peers – was revolutionary and unique to the Church.

The conclave has an air of mystery about it even now because participants are sworn to secrecy for life on pain of excommunication, and the 15th-century chapel is swept for bugs every day before deliberations begin.

When a candidate wins a two-thirds majority, he will simply be asked by the Dean of Cardinals Angelo Sodano for a yes or no answer to whether he accepts.

If he does, he retreats to a room known as the Room of Tears to put on the papal garb and emerge in front of the crowds in St. Peter’s Square as new pope.

Every round of voting is followed by the burning of the cardinals’ ballots twice a day in a specially-installed stove in the chapel.

With the addition of chemicals, the stove’s chimney stack puts out black smoke if no one has been elected or white smoke if there is a new pope.

The new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics then emerges onto a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square to the cry of “Habemus Papam”!

Here are a few facts about conclaves:

What is a conclave?

The word comes from the Latin for “with key”, a reference to the lockdown mode that cardinals have to live in at the Vatican until they elect a new pope. The secret meeting only occurs when a pope dies – or, in this case, resigns.

Who will take part?

All cardinals aged under 80 have the duty to take part. This year 115 are to take part after an Indonesian cardinal was excused for health reasons and British cardinal Keith O’Brien recused himself after sexual misconduct claims by priests.

Where are the cardinals from?

More than half of the “cardinal electors” – 60 – are from Europe, including 28 from Italy. Nineteen are from South America, 14 from North America, 11 from Africa, 10 from Asia and one from Oceania.

How does voting work?

Cardinals carry out two rounds of voting a day, depositing their ballots on a plate and sliding them into a special urn. The ballots are then burnt in a special stove. A candidate needs to garner a two-thirds majority to be elected.

Who can be elected pope?

Any single Catholic adult male can be elected pope, although in practice it is almost always one of the cardinals with only six exceptions in history. Benedict told cardinals before his resignation that the new pope was “among you”.

What if there is no agreement?

If no new pope is elected after three days, cardinals take a break and hold a day of prayer. If there is no deal after 34 votes, they must choose between the two most voted candidates although still with a two-thirds majority.

What are the rules of the conclave?

The deliberations of a conclave are held in strictest secrecy on pain of instant excommunication. Smartphones and any Internet access are off-bounds for the whole duration of the conclave and the Sistine Chapel is swept for bugs.

Who else is present in conclave?

Only cardinal electors are allowed to be present during the actual voting, although others including two doctors, clerical assistants and housekeeping staff are allowed to enter at different times during the conclave.

Where do the cardinals stay?

The cardinal electors have to stay in a Vatican residence called St. Martha’s House for the duration. They are not allowed any contact with the outside world. Sick cardinals are allowed to cast their ballots from their beds. – Rappler.com


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