9 things to know about electing a pope

With the election of a new pope under way in Vatican City, here are 9 Things To Know About Electing a Pope:

1) The new Pope, the Bishop of Rome, will be elected by the College of Cardinals.

Cardinals are bishops and Vatican officials from all over the world, personally chosen by the pope. Their primary responsibility is to elect a new pope but they also serve as advisors to the pope. They are recognizable by their distinctive red vestments.

2) The cardinals convene in Vatican City to choose Pope Benedict XVI's successor in closed-door meetings called a conclave.

The cardinals take an oath of absolute secrecy and then meet in the Sistine Chapel totally cut off from the outside world. No TV. No newspapers. No computers. And definitely no cellphones.

3) Pope Gregory X established the conclave in 1274 after it took the cardinals two years and nine months to choose him as the successor to Pope Clement IV. Locking the cardinals in a meeting and gradually decreasing their food rations was seen as good way to prompt agreement on a new pope.

Over the centuries the system has changed. Food is no longer rationed, the cardinals meeting in the conclave are no longer locked in and one who arrives after the conclave begins can still be admitted.

4) A total of 115 cardinals will vote this week. A two-thirds majority (77 votes) is needed to elect a pope.  If after 26 ballots a new pope still has not been chosen, a simple majority (50 percent plus one) becomes sufficient to choose the new pope under a decree by John Paul II.

5) One ballot may be taken on the first day of the conclave. Two morning ballots and two afternoon ballots may be taken on the following days.

The cardinals vote by secret ballot. Each cardinal writes his choice on a rectangular piece of paper inscribed with the words "Eligo in summen pontificem" - Latin for "I elect as Supreme Pontiff."

Holding the folded ballot up in the air, each cardinal approaches the altar and places it on a saucer, before tipping it into an oval urn, as he intones these words: "I call as my witness, Christ the Lord, who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who, before God, I think should be elected."

After the votes are counted, and the outcomes announced, the papers are bound together with a needle and thread, each ballot pierced through the word "Eligo." The ballots are then placed in a cast-iron stove and burned with a special chemical mix – one that produces black smoke or one that produces white smoke – depending on the outcome of the vote.

6) The eyes of the world will be watching the 6-foot-high copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel to pipe out puffs of smoke after each ballot.

Black smoke means "not yet" - the likely outcome after Round 1. White smoke means the 266th pope has been chosen.

7) When a cardinal receives enough votes for election, the dean of the College of Cardinals asks if he accepts his election. If he accepts, he chooses a papal name and is dressed in papal vestments. The senior cardinal deacon, currently French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, then announces from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica "Habemus Papam" ("We have a pope") and the new pope processes out to impart his blessing on the city of Rome and the entire world.

8) No choice is expected to emerge on the first ballot as a number of names have been advanced as possible frontrunners. Observers say the cardinal electors are split roughly into two groups -- those who wish to reform the Vatican's bureaucracy and are backing Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola and those who work at the Vatican and back Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, who has himself worked in the Curia, the administrative apparatus of the church in Rome.

Other contenders reportedly include Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a Vatican insider, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada.

9) There are more than 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. That number includes more than 477,000 baptized Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which encompasses 214 parishes in 19 counties, and more than 92,000 baptized Catholics in the Diocese of Covington which encompasses 47 parishes in 14 counties.


Print this article Back to Top