How the Catholic pope is elected

When a Pope dies or resigns, a limited Papal authority is passed to the Papal Chamberlain (Vatican secretary of state). He supervises the works going on in the Vatican City till a new Pope is elected.

If the previous Pope died, he makes sure the Popes burial goes well and he organizes the election of the new Pope.

Cardinals from all over the world are summoned to the Vatican City by the Chamberlain so that election of the new Pope will resume(aka. Conclave) . The word conclave is a Latin word which means locked “with a key “. When the election of the new Pope begins all the Cardinals in Rome are locked in a room till a new Pope is chosen that’s why it’s called conclave.

The Conclave begins 15 days after the death of the Pope. All cardinals except the sick or elderly ones are expected to be present at the cardinals meeting at Rome called General Congregations.

In the meeting , the cardinals discuss the problems and needs facing the Catholic Church all over the world and how the next Pope should act over the issues.

Only Cardinals who are below 80 years are capable to vote during the election and they are known as Cardinal electors.

Before the conclave, the Cardinals are given the first sermon at the St Peter’s basilica and another sermon is also given to the Cardinal electors when they settle in the Sistine Chapel for conclave. Both sermon is to lay out the current situation in the church and the qualities the new Pope should posses.

In the morning before the conclave, the cardinal will celebrate mass in St Peters basilica. The purpose of the mass is to call upon God’s guidance in selecting the new Pope.

In the afternoon, the cardinals will match to the Sistine Chapel while singing the Litany of the Saints. In the chapel, the cardinal electors will be locked up for the election. They will swear an oath of secrecy saying “ Et ego [given name] Cardinalis [surname] spondeo, voveo ac iuro. Sic me Deus adiuvet et haec Sancta Dei Evangelia, quae manu mea tango. which means And I, [given name] Cardinal [surname], so promise, pledge and swear. So help me God and these Holy Gospels which I now touch with my hand.

The Sistine Chapel must be thoroughly searched to make sure that there’s no communication devices or microphones present in it. All cardinals will give up their mobile phones and other electronic gadgets.

After the oath, the master of Papal liturgical celebrations will order all the individuals to leave the chapel except the cardinal electors and others participating in the conclave by saying in Latin “Extra omnes!” (Latin for ‘Outside, all [of you]’). The chapel is then locked.

The first ballot can be held on that afternoon which is a single ballot. During the other days, four ballots are held per day, two in the morning and another two in the afternoon till a Pope is selected.

Pope ballot paper

The ballot paper is rectangular in shape, in the upper half is the word  “Eligio in Summum Pontificem” which means “I elect as Supreme Pontiff” and below the paper is the name of the person the cardinals chosed to be Pope . The cardinal electors are to write the name in a way it doesn’t identify them and are to fold the paper twice before putting it in the ballot box.

After the voting, the papers are mixed and counted to make sure the number of ballot paper is equal to the number of cardinal electors. If they aren’t, the papers are burnt,unread and another vote will be casted.

If the papers are equal to the number of voters, the scrutineers (cardinals that inspect the election) calls out the name of the cardinals that received votes. He puts hole through the ballot papers and place them on single thread.

Before a cardinal wins, he must receive two-third of the vote.

The papers are burnt in such a way it gives out smoking from the chimney at the top of Sistine Chapel.

The color of the smoke shows whether a new Pope has been chosen or not. If it’s black, it means no Pope is chosen yet and if it’s white it shows a new Pope has been chosen. Dyes and other chemicals are used to change the color of the smoke.

If the second vote takes place immediately after the first, the first ballot paper is kept aside and is burnt together with the second paper.

If after 3 days and there’s no one elected pope, the cardinals take a day off to pray and reflect before the election continues the next day. This process continues till a new Pope is elected.

In the ancient days, the food supplied to the cardinal electors where shortened per day to the extent they were given only bread and water. This was to fasten the election of the new Pope because in those days it took months and almost a year for a new Pope to be elected.

When a cardinal is been elected, the cardinal electors asks him in Latin Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem? (“Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?”). If he accepts, he will be asked  Quo nomine vis vocari? (“By what name do you wish to be called?”). After he has chosen a name, the master of pontifical liturgical ceremonies writes a document recording the acceptance and the new name of the pope. The other cardinals makes an act of obedience to the new Pope.

The ballot papers burnt this time is made to produce white smoke in the chimney to signal that a new Pope has been chosen.

After the cardinal is chosen, he proceeds to the room of tears, it is called room of tears because of the strong emotion experienced by the new Pope. He’s clothed in Papal attire before he makes his first appearance to the public. The senior cardinal deacon appears first in the balcony of St Peter’s basilica to announce the new Pope “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum… habemus papam!” – “I announce to you a great joy… we have a pope!” .The Pope name will also be revealed before he makes his first appearance and bless the people and the whole world.

If the elected cardinal is already a bishop, he takes office immediately but if he not a bishop, he’s then consecrated a bishop before he takes office. Only when the elected cardinal is a bishop will he become the Pope. If he is a priest he will first be consecrated bishop before he’s made Pope. If he’s a lay man, he will first be made a deacon then ordained priest and be consecrated bishop before he takes office.

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About Ofomah Stephen 80 Articles
My name is Ofomah Stephen. I'm a Catholic writer. I publish articles based on Catholic teachings and doctrines which will help you to understand and know more about the Catholic practices, history, doctrines and teaching.

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