Papal conclave

Papal conclave
The Holy See

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The Sistine Chapel has been the location of the conclave since 1492.

A papal conclave is a meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a Bishop of Rome, who then becomes the Pope during a period of vacancy in the papal office. The Pope is considered by Roman Catholics to be the apostolic successor of Saint Peter and earthly head of the Roman Catholic Church.[1] The conclave, the means and process for choosing the pope for little more than half of the time the church has been in existence, is now the oldest ongoing method for choosing the leader of an institution.[2]

A history of political interference in these elections and consequently long vacancies between popes, and most immediately the interregnum of 1268–1271, prompted the Second Council of Lyons to decree in 1274 that the electors should be locked in seclusion cum clave (Latin for "with a key"), and not permitted to leave until a new Bishop of Rome had been elected. Conclaves are now held in the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.[3]

Since the Apostolic Age, the Bishop of Rome (like other bishops) was chosen by the consensus of the clergy and people of Rome.[4] The body of electors was more precisely defined when, in 1059, the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors.[5] Since then other details of the process have developed. In 1970, Pope Paul VI limited the electors to cardinals under 80 years of age. The Pope may change the procedures for electing his successor; the current procedures were established by Pope John Paul II in his constitution Universi Dominici Gregis[6] and amended by a motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI dated 11 June 2007.[7][8] A two-thirds vote of the electorate is required to elect the new pope.


Historical development

The procedures relating to the election of the Pope have undergone almost two millennia of development. Procedures similar to the present system were introduced in 1274 with the Second Council of Lyons after the three-year interregnum of 1268–1271.[1]

The electorate

As the Christian communities became established they started to elect bishops, chosen by the clergy and laity of the community with the assistance of the bishops of neighbouring dioceses.[4] St. Cyprian says that Pope Cornelius was chosen Bishop of Rome "by the decree of God and of His Church, by the testimony of nearly all the clergy, by the college of aged bishops (sacerdotum), and of good men."[9] As was true for bishops of other dioceses (see the story of St. Ambrose as late as 374),[10] the clergy of the Diocese of Rome was the electoral body for the Bishop of Rome, but they did not cast votes, instead selecting the bishop by general consensus or by acclamation. The candidate would then be submitted to the people for their general approval or disapproval. This lack of precision in the election procedures gave rise to rival Popes or antipopes, and to avoid factions the Roman Emperor sometimes confirmed the selection.[11]

The Lateran Synod held in 769 officially abolished the theoretical suffrage held by the Roman people, though in 862, a Synod of Rome restored it to Roman noblemen.[11] The pope was also subjected to oaths of loyalty to the Holy Roman Emperor, whose task it was to provide security and public peace in Rome.[12] A major change was introduced in 1059, when Nicholas II decreed in In Nomine Domini that the cardinals were to elect a candidate, who would take office after receiving the assent of the clergy and laity. The most senior cardinals, the cardinal bishops, were to meet first and discuss the candidates before summoning the cardinal priests and cardinal deacons for the actual vote.[9] Imperial confirmation was dropped.[13] The Second Council of the Lateran in 1139 removed the requirement that the assent of the lower clergy and the laity be obtained.[11]

Through much of the Middle Ages and Renaissance there were fewer than 30 cardinals, and there were as few as seven under Pope Alexander IV (1254–1261).[14] Difficult travel further reduced the number arriving at the conclave. With a small electorate an individual vote was significant, and was not easily shaken from familial or political lines. Conclaves could last months and even years. The long interregnum following the death of Clement IV in 1268 caused Gregory X and the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 to decree that the electors should be locked in seclusion, and their food rationed should they fail to choose a candidate in three to eight days.[11] The strict rules of the conclave were disliked by the cardinals and suspended by John XXI (1276–1277). Lengthy elections continued to be the norm until 1294 when a pious Benedictine hermit admonished the cardinals. The cardinals elected this same monk as Pope Celestine V, whose main acts as Pope were to reinstate the strict conclave, and to resign the papacy.[15] He was declared a saint in 1313.

In 1378, after the death of the French-born Gregory XI, the Romans rioted to ensure the election of an Italian; the cardinals complied by choosing Urban VI, who was not even a cardinal. Later, in the same year, French and other cardinals moved to Fondi and elected another rival Pope. The Council of Pisa met in 1409 to resolve the conflict, but only managed to elect a third claimant. The conflict, known as the Western Schism, was only resolved by the Council of Constance which met between 1414 and 1418. The Roman Gregory XII abdicated in 1415, and the council deposed the other two claimants and elected Pope Martin V, ending the schism. After that election it was declared that no council would have authority over the Pope, and that a papal election could not be undone.[16]

In 1587, Sixtus V fixed the number of cardinals to 70: six cardinal bishops, 50 cardinal priests, and 14 cardinal deacons.[14] Beginning with John XXIII's attempts to broaden the backgrounds of the cardinals, that number has increased. In 1970, Paul VI decreed that cardinals upon reaching the age of eighty were ineligible to vote in the conclave, and also increased the number of active cardinal electors to 120. Though this remains the theoretical limit, John Paul II exceeded this for short periods of time with knowledge of impending retirements. John Paul II also specified that cardinals who were under eighty on the day the Holy See became vacant were still entitled to vote even if they had turned eighty by the time the conclave started. Of the 182 cardinals at that time, 116 were under eighty years of age.[17]

Choice of the electors

Originally, lay status did not bar election to the Bishop of Rome: bishops of dioceses were sometimes elected even while still catechumens (as St. Ambrose, supra). In 769, in the wake of the violent dispute over the election of antipope Constantine II, Pope Stephen III held a synod which ruled that the entire clergy of Rome had a right to vote for the Bishop of Rome, but that only a "cardinal priest" or "cardinal deacon" could be elected (this is the first use of the term "cardinal" and the "cardinal bishops" were specifically excluded).[9][18] Nicholas II, in the synod of 1059, modified this to give preference to the clergy of Rome in the choice, but the cardinal bishops were also free to select a candidate from elsewhere.[13] In 1179, the Third Council of the Lateran reversed earlier requirements, once more allowing any Catholic man to be elected by the cardinals. (This does not mean a layman elected would remain an unordained layman while serving as pope; see acceptance and proclamation below.) Urban VI in 1378 was the last Pope elected from outside the cardinals. In more recent history it is reported that Archbishop Giovanni Montini of Milan received several votes in the conclave of 1958 despite not being a cardinal.[19] The new pope John XXIII made Montini a cardinal almost immediately, and would be succeeded by him as Pope Paul VI in 1963.

Though the pope's core title is "Bishop of Rome", he need not be of Italian background. Before Netherlands-born Adrian VI, who was elected in 1522, popes came from a wide variety of geographic areas and linguistic groups. From Adrian VI until the Polish John Paul II, all the popes were from areas that are now part of Italy. However, this bears little of the modern connotation of "Italian": before unification in the second half of the nineteenth century, geographical Italy was composed of independent republics and kingdoms; parts of it were controlled by powers such as France or the Holy Roman Empire. The Papal States (in the middle of the Italian "boot") formed a country until the official unification of modern Italy in 1861. In many cases, the distinction between Italian and non-Italian was meaningless compared to that between Roman and non-Roman, Florentine and Venetian, or various political and familial alliances. The present incumbent of the Diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI, is German.[20]

In theory, any baptised male Catholic (except a heretic or schismatic) can be elected pope by the College of Cardinals. As the Catholic Church holds that women cannot be validly ordained, and the pope is, by definition, the Bishop of Rome, women have never been eligible for the papacy. Claims that there was a female Pope, including the legendary Pope Joan, are fictitious.[21]

Until 1179, a simple majority sufficed for an election, when the Third Lateran Council increased the required majority to two-thirds. Cardinals were not allowed to vote for themselves; an elaborate procedure was adopted to ensure secrecy while at the same time preventing self-voting.[22] In 1945, Pius XII increased the requisite majority to two-thirds plus one. In 1996, John Paul's constitution allowed election by absolute majority if deadlock prevailed after thirty-three or thirty-four ballots.[6] In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI rescinded John Paul's change (which had been criticised as effectively abolishing the two-thirds majority requirement, as any majority would suffice to block the election until a simple majority was enough to elect the next pope), reaffirming the requirement of a two-thirds majority.[23]

Electors formerly made choices by three methods: by acclamation, compromise or scrutiny. If voting by acclamation, the cardinals would unanimously declare the new pope quasi afflati Spiritu Sancto (as if inspired by the Holy Spirit). If voting by compromise, the deadlocked College would select a committee of cardinals to conduct an election. In reality voting was done by scrutiny with the electors casting secret ballots.[24] The last election by compromise is thought to be that of John XXII (1316), and the last election by acclamation that of Gregory XV (1621). New rules introduced by John Paul II have formally abolished these long-unused systems and election is always by totally secret ballot.[6]

Secular influence

For a significant part of its history, the Church was influenced in the choice of its leaders by powerful monarchs and governments. For example, the Roman Emperors once held considerable sway in the elections of popes. In 418, Honorius settled a controversial election, upholding Boniface I over the challenger Eulalius.[25] He ordered that in future cases, any controverted election would be settled by a fresh election; the method was never applied before its lapse. After the demise of the Western Roman Empire, influence passed to the Ostrogothic Kings of Italy and in 532, John II formally recognised the right of the Ostrogothic monarchs to ratify elections. By the end of the 530s, the Ostrogothic monarchy had been overthrown, and power passed to the Byzantine Emperors (known as the Eastern Roman Emperors). A procedure was adopted whereby officials were required to notify the Exarch of Ravenna (who would relay the information to the Byzantine Emperor) upon the death of a pope before proceeding with the election. Once the electors arrived at a choice, they were required to send a delegation to Constantinople requesting the Emperor's consent, which was necessary before the individual elected could take office. Lengthy delays were caused by the sojourns to and from Constantinople; when Benedict II complained about them, Emperor Constantine IV acquiesced, ending the requirement that elections be confirmed by emperors. Thereafter, the Emperor was only required to be notified; the requirement was dispensed with by Pope Zachary.

In the 9th century, a new empire—the Holy Roman Empire, which was German, not Italian—came to exert control over the elections of popes. While the first two Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne and Louis, did not interfere with the Church, Lothar claimed that an election could not be conducted except in the presence of imperial ambassadors. In 898, riots forced John IX to recognise the superintendence of the Holy Roman Emperor; the local secular rulers in Rome also continued to exert a great influence, especially during the tenth century period known as Saeculum obscurum (Latin for the dark age).

In 1059, the same papal bull that restricted suffrage to the cardinals also recognised the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, at the time Henry IV, but only as a concession made by the pope, thus establishing that the Holy Roman Emperor had no authority to intervene in elections except where permitted to do so by papal agreements. Pope Gregory VII was the last to submit to the interference of the Holy Roman Emperors; the breach between him and the Holy Roman Empire caused by the Investiture Controversy led to the abolition of the Emperor's role.[26] In 1119, the Holy Roman Empire acceded to the Concordat of Worms, accepting the papal decision.

From the sixteenth century, certain Catholic monarchs were allowed to exercise the so-called right of exclusion or veto. By an informal convention, each nation was allowed to veto one candidate; any decision made by a nation was conveyed by one of its cardinals. The power of exclusion was, by the same custom, only exercisable once. Therefore, the nation's cardinals did not announce the use of the power until the very last moment when the candidate in question seemed likely to get elected. No vetoes could be employed after an election. After the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806, its place was taken by Austria (which was a part of the Empire and whose ruler was also Holy Roman Emperor). Austria was the last power to exercise the veto, when in 1903 Cardinal Jan Maurycy Pawel Puzyna de Kosielsko informed the College of Cardinals that Austria opposed the election of Mariano Rampolla (who had received 29 out of 60 votes in one ballot). Consequently, the College chose Giuseppe Sarto with 55 votes. Cardinal Sarto chose the name Pius X and abolished the right of the secular veto, declaring that any cardinal who communicated his government's veto would suffer excommunication.[27]


In earlier years, papal elections sometimes suffered prolonged deadlocks. To resolve them, authorities often resorted to the forced seclusion of the cardinal electors. The method was adopted in 1216 by the city of Perugia and in 1241 by the city of Rome. After the death of Clement IV in 1268, the city of Viterbo also had to resort to seclusion of the cardinals in the episcopal palace. When the cardinals still failed to elect a pope, the city refused to send in any materials except bread and water. When even this failed to produce a result, the townspeople removed the roof. The cardinals then elected Gregory X, ending an interregnum of almost three years. Six of the sixteen cardinals present were delegated by the remaining ten to make the choice for all, and they wrote down their choices until all six agreed. The remaining ten accepted the one chosen by these six.[28]

To reduce further delays, Gregory X introduced stringent rules relating to the election procedures. Cardinals were to be secluded in a closed area and were not even accorded separate rooms. No cardinal was allowed, unless ill, to be attended by more than one servant. Food was to be supplied through a window; after three days of the meeting, the cardinals were to receive only one dish a day; after five days, they were to receive just bread and water. During the conclave, no cardinal was to receive any ecclesiastical revenue.[29]

Gregory X's strict regulations were abrogated in 1276 by Adrian V, but Celestine V, elected in 1294 following a two-year vacancy, restored them. In 1562, Pius IV issued a papal bull that introduced regulations relating to the enclosure of the conclave and other procedures. Gregory XV issued two bulls that covered the most minute of details relating to the election; the first, in 1621, concerned electoral processes, while the other, in 1622, fixed the ceremonies to be observed. In 1904, Pope Pius X issued a constitution consolidating almost all the previous rules, making some revamps. Several reforms were also instituted by John Paul II in 1996.[1]

The location of the conclaves was not fixed until the fourteenth century. Since the Western Schism, however, elections have always been held in Rome (except in 1800, when French troops occupying Rome forced the election to be held in Venice), and normally in what, since the Lateran Treaties of 1929, has become the independent Vatican City State. Since 1846, when the Quirinal Palace was used, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has always served as the location of the election. Popes have often fine-tuned the rules for the election of their successors: Pope Pius XII's Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis of 1945 governed the conclave of 1958, Pope John XXIII's Summi Pontificis Electio of 1962 that of 1963, Pope Paul VI's Romano Pontifici Eligendo of 1975 those of 1978, and John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis of 1996 that of 2005.[30]

Modern practice

In 1996, John Paul II promulgated a new Apostolic Constitution, called Universi Dominici Gregis (The Lord's Whole Flock), which, with a slight modification by Pope Benedict XVI now governs the election of the Pope, abrogating all previous constitutions on the matter, but preserving many procedures that date to much earlier times.

Under Universi Dominici Gregis, the cardinals are to be lodged in a purpose-built edifice, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, but are to continue to vote in the Sistine Chapel.[31]

Several duties are performed by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, who is always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Dean is not entitled to participate in the conclave due to age, his place is taken by the Sub-Dean, who is also always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Sub-Dean also cannot participate, the senior Cardinal Bishop participating performs the functions.[32]

Since the College of Cardinals is a small body, some[who?] have suggested that the electorate should be expanded. Proposed reforms include a plan to replace the College of Cardinals as the electoral body with the Synod of Bishops, which includes many more members. Under present procedure, however, the Synod may only meet while called by the Pope. Universi Dominici Gregis explicitly provides that even if a Synod or ecumenical council is in session at the time of a Pope's death, it may not perform the election. Upon the Pope's death, either body's proceedings are suspended, to be resumed only upon the order of the new Pope.[33]

It is considered poor form to campaign for the position of Pope. However, there is inevitably always much speculation about which Cardinals have serious prospects of being elected. Speculation tends to mount when a Pope is ill or aged and shortlists of potential candidates appear in the media. A Cardinal who is considered to be a prospect for the papacy is referred to informally as being papabile (an adjective used substantively: the plural form is papabili), a term coined by Italian-speaking Vatican watchers in the mid-twentieth century.[34] The Italian is pronounced 'pap-AH-bee-lay/lee, and means roughly 'Pope-able'.

Death of the Pope

The Cardinal Camerlengo proclaims a papal death.

The death of the Pope is verified by the Cardinal Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, who traditionally performed the task by gently striking the Pope's head with a small silver hammer and calling out his Christian (not papal) name three times. During the twentieth century the use of the hammer in this ritual has been abandoned; under Universi Dominici Gregis, the Camerlengo must merely declare the Pope's death in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and of the Cleric Prelates, Secretary and Chancellor of the Apostolic Camera. The Cardinal Camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman worn by the Pope; the Ring, along with the papal seal, is later destroyed before the College of Cardinals. The tradition originated to avoid forgery of documents, but today merely is a symbol of the end of the pope's reign.[35]

During the sede vacante, as the papal vacancy is known, certain limited powers pass to the College of Cardinals, which is convoked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals. All cardinals are obliged to attend the General Congregation of Cardinals, except those whose health does not permit, or who are over eighty (but those cardinals may choose to attend if they please). The Particular Congregation, which deals with the day-to-day matters of the Church, includes the Cardinal Camerlengo and the three Cardinal Assistants—one Cardinal-Bishop, one Cardinal-Priest and one Cardinal-Deacon—chosen by lot. Every three days, new Cardinal Assistants are chosen by lot. The Cardinal Camerlengo and Cardinal Assistants are responsible, among other things, for maintaining the election's secrecy.[36]

The Congregations must make certain arrangements in respect of the Pope's burial, which by tradition takes place within four to six days of the Pope's death, leaving time for pilgrims to see the dead pontiff, and is to be followed by a nine-day period of mourning (this is known as the novemdiales, Latin for "nine days"). The Congregations also fix the date and time of the commencement of the conclave. The conclave normally takes place fifteen days after the death of the Pope, but the Congregations may extend the period to a maximum of twenty days in order to permit other cardinals to arrive in the Vatican City.[37]

A vacancy in the papal office may also result from a papal resignation, though no pope has abdicated since Gregory XII in 1415.[38]

Beginning of the election

The cardinals hear two sermons before the election: one before actually entering the conclave, and one once they are settled in the Sistine Chapel. In both cases, the sermons are meant to lay out the current state of the Church, and to suggest the qualities necessary for a pope to possess in that specific time. The first preacher in the 2005 conclave was Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household and a member of the Capuchin Franciscan order, who spoke at one of the meetings of the cardinals held before the actual day when the conclave began.[39] Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík, a former professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and a retired (thus, non-voting) member of the College of Cardinals, spoke just before the doors were finally closed for the conclave.[40]

On the morning of the day designated by the Congregations of Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble in St Peter's Basilica to celebrate the Eucharist. Then, they gather in the afternoon in the Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican, proceeding to the Sistine Chapel while singing the Veni Creator Spiritus.[41] The Cardinals then take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitutions; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting. The Cardinal Dean reads the oath aloud in full; in order of precedence, the other cardinal electors merely state, while touching the Gospels, that they "do so promise, pledge and swear."[42]

After all the cardinals present have taken the oath, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations orders all individuals other than the cardinals and conclave participants to leave the Chapel—traditionally, he stands at the door of the Sistine Chapel and calls out or states "Extra omnes!", Latin for, roughly, "Everybody else, out!" He then closes the door.[43]

The Master himself may remain, as may one ecclesiastic designated by the Congregations prior to the commencement of the election. The ecclesiastic makes a speech concerning the problems facing the Church and on the qualities the new Pope needs to have. After the speech concludes, the ecclesiastic leaves. Following the recitation of prayers, the Cardinal Dean asks if any doubts relating to procedure remain. After the clarification of the doubts, the election may commence. Cardinals who arrive after the conclave has begun are admitted nevertheless. An ill cardinal may leave the conclave and later be readmitted; a cardinal who leaves for any reason other than illness may not return to the conclave.[44]

Although in the past cardinal electors could be accompanied by attendants ("conclavists"), now only a nurse may accompany a cardinal who for reasons of ill-health, as confirmed by the Congregation of Cardinals, needs such assistance.[45] The Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, two Masters of Ceremonies, two officers of the Papal Sacristy and an ecclesiastic assisting the Dean of the College of Cardinals are also admitted to the conclave. Priests are available to hear confessions in different languages; two doctors are also admitted. Finally, a strictly limited number of servant staff are permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals. Secrecy is maintained during the conclave; the cardinals as well as the conclavists and staff are not permitted to disclose any information relating to the election. Cardinal electors may not correspond or converse with anyone outside the conclave, by post, radio, telephone or otherwise and eavesdropping is an offense punishable by excommunication latae sententiae—in fact, before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, the Sistine Chapel was "swept" using the latest electronic devices to detect any hidden "bugs" or surveillance devices (there were no reports that any were found, but in previous conclaves there were discovered press reporters who had disguised themselves as conclave servants). Universi Dominici Gregis specifically prohibits media such as newspapers, the radio, and television.[46]


Cardinals formerly used these intricate ballot papers, one of which is shown folded above. Currently, the ballots are simple cards, folded once (like a note card), with the words "I elect as Supreme Pontiff ....." printed on them.

On the afternoon of the first day, one ballot may be held. If a ballot takes place on the afternoon of the first day and no-one is elected, or no ballot had taken place, four ballots are held on each successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. Before voting in the morning and again before voting in the afternoon, the electors take an oath to obey the rules of the conclave. If no result is obtained after three vote days of balloting, the process is suspended for a maximum of one day for prayer and an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon. After seven further ballots, the process may again be similarly suspended, with the address now being delivered by the senior Cardinal Priest. If, after another seven ballots, no result is achieved, voting is suspended once more, the address being delivered by the senior Cardinal Bishop. After a further seven ballots, there shall be a day of prayer, reflection and dialogue. In the following ballots, only the two Cardinals who received the most votes in the last ballot shall be eligible, and a two-thirds majority of the votes shall not be required. However, the two Cardinals who are being voted on shall not themselves have the right to vote.[7]

The process of voting comprises three phases: the "pre-scrutiny", the "scrutiny", and the "post-scrutiny." During the pre-scrutiny, the Masters of the Ceremonies prepare ballot papers bearing the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem ("I elect as Supreme Pontiff") and provide at least two to each cardinal elector. As the cardinals begin to write down their votes, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and the Masters of Ceremonies exit; the junior Cardinal Deacon then closes the door. The junior Cardinal Deacon then draws by lot nine names; the first three become Scrutineers, the second three Infirmarii and the last three Revisers. New Scrutineers, Infirmarii and Revisers are not selected again after the first scrutiny; the same nine cardinals perform the same task for the second scrutiny. After lunch, the election resumes with the oath to obey the rules of the conclave taken anew when the cardinals again assemble in the Sistine Chapel. Nine names are chosen for new scrutineers, infirmarii, and revisers. The third scrutiny then commences, and if necessary, a fourth immediately follows.

The scrutiny phase of the election is as follows: The cardinal electors proceed, in order of precedence, to take their completed ballots (which bear only the name of the individual voted for) to the altar, where the Scrutineers stand. Before casting the ballot, each cardinal elector takes a Latin oath, which translates to: "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." If any cardinal elector is in the Chapel, but cannot proceed to the altar due to infirmity, the last Scrutineer may go to him and take his ballot after the oath is recited. If any cardinal elector is by reason of infirmity confined to his room, the Infirmarii go to their rooms with ballot papers and a box. Any such sick cardinals take the oath and then complete the ballot papers. When the Infirmarii return to the Chapel, the ballots are counted to ensure that their number matches with the number of ill cardinals; thereafter, they are deposited in the appropriate receptacle. This oath is taken by all cardinals as they cast their ballots. If no one is chosen on the first scrutiny, then a second scrutiny immediately follows. A total of four scrutinies are taken each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

The oath when casting one's vote is therefore anonymous, since the name of the elector is no longer signed on the ballot with that of the candidate. (Previously, the ballot was also signed by the elector and then folded over to cover the signature of the elector and then sealed to result in a semi-secret ballot. See example above.) This was the procedure prior to 1945. Above is a copy of the old three section semi-secret ballot, which was last used in the conclave of 1939. There was no oath taken when actually casting ballots, prior to 1621. Completely secret ballots (at the option of the cardinals present and voting) were sometimes used prior to 1621, but these secret ballots had no oath taken when the vote was actually cast. At some conclaves prior to 1621, the cardinals verbally voted and sometimes stood in groups to facilitate counting the votes cast. The signature of the elector covered by a folded-over part of the ballot paper was added by Gregory XV in 1621, to prevent anyone from casting the deciding vote for himself. Cardinal Pole of England refused to cast the deciding vote for himself in 1549 (and was not elected), but in 1492 Cardinal Borgia (Alexander VI) did cast the deciding vote for himself. Faced by the mortal challenge to the papacy emanating from Protestantism, and fearing schism due to several stormy conclaves in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Gregory XV established this procedure to prevent any cardinal from casting the deciding vote for himself. Since 1945, a cardinal can again cast the deciding vote for himself, though the 2/3 majority rule has always been continued, except when John Paul II had modified that rule in 1996 (after 33 ballots, a simple majority was sufficient), with the 2/3 majority rule restored in 2007 by Benedict XVI.

Prior to 1621, the only oath taken was that of obedience to the rules of the conclave in force at that time, when the cardinals entered the conclave and the doors were locked, and each morning and afternoon as they entered the Sistine Chapel to vote. Gregory XV added the additional oath, taken when each cardinal casts his ballot, to prevent cardinals wasting time in casting "courtesy votes" and instead narrowing the number of realistic candidates for the papal throne to perhaps only two or three. Speed in electing a pope was important, and that meant using an oath so as to get the cardinals down to the serious business of electing a new pope and narrowing the number of potentially electable candidates. The reforms of Gregory XV in 1621 and reaffirmed in 1622 created the written detailed step-by-step procedure used in choosing a pope; a procedure that was essentially the same as that which was used in 2005 to elect Benedict XVI. The biggest change since 1621 was the elimination of the rule that required the electors to sign their ballots resulting in the detailed voting procedure of scrutiny making use of anonymous oaths. This was perhaps the most significant change in the modern era detailed voting procedure, since that detailed voting procedure was first created in 1621. It was Pius XII who made this change in 1945.

Once all votes have been cast, the first Scrutineer chosen shakes the container, and the last Scrutineer removes and counts the ballots. If the number of ballots does not correspond to the number of cardinal electors present, the ballots are burnt, unread, and the vote is repeated. If, however, no irregularities are observed, the ballots may be opened and the votes counted. Each ballot is unfolded by the first Scrutineer; all three Scrutineers separately write down the name indicated on the ballot. The last of the Scrutineers reads the name aloud.

Once all of the ballots have been opened, the final post-scrutiny phase begins. The Scrutineers add up all of the votes, and the Revisers check the ballots and the names on the Scrutineers' lists to ensure that no error was made. The ballots are then all burnt by the Scrutineers with the assistance of the Secretary of the College and the Masters of Ceremonies. If the first scrutiny held in any given morning or afternoon does not result in an election, the cardinals proceed to the next scrutiny immediately; the papers from both scrutinies are burnt together at the end of the second scrutiny. The colour of the smoke signals the results to the people assembled in St Peter's Square. Dark smoke signals that the ballot did not result in an election, while white smoke signals that a new Pope was chosen. Originally, damp straw was added to the fire to create dark smoke; beginning in 1963 coloring chemicals have been added, and beginning in 2005 bells ring after a successful election, to augment the white smoke, and especially if the white smoke is not unambiguously white.[47] Prior to 1945 (the year Pius XII changed the form of ballot to use anonymous oaths, first carried out in 1958), when the ballots were of the more complex type illustrated above, the sealing wax which was used in those ballots had an effect in making the smoke from burning the ballots either black or white, depending on whether damp straw was added or not. This explains the confusion over the color of the smoke in the conclave of 1958, with coloring chemicals added beginning in 1963.

Acceptance and proclamation

Once the election concludes, the Cardinal Dean summons the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations into the hall. The Cardinal Dean then asks the Pope-elect if he assents to the election, saying in Latin: "Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem? (Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?)." There is no requirement that the Pope-elect do so: he is free to say "non accepto" (I don't accept). In practice, however, any potential Pope-elect who intends not to accept will explicitly state this before he has been given a sufficient number of votes to become Pope. This has happened in modern times with Giovanni Colombo in October 1978[48] and, according to some sources,[who?] with Jorge Bergoglio in 2005. The only significant case where a cardinal did refuse the Papacy after being given a sufficient number of votes was Charles Borromeo in the sixteenth century.[citation needed]

If he accepts, and is already a bishop, he immediately takes office. If he is not a bishop, however, he must be first ordained as one before he can assume office. If a priest is elected, the Cardinal Dean ordains him bishop; if a layman is elected, then the Cardinal Dean first ordains him deacon, then priest, and only then bishop. Only after becoming a bishop does the Pope-elect take office.

(The above functions of the Dean are assumed, if necessary, by the sub-Dean, and if the sub-Dean is also impeded, they are assumed by the senior cardinal-bishop in attendance. Notice that in 2005 the Dean himself—Joseph Ratzinger—was elected Pope.)

Since 533, the new Pope has also decided on the name by which he is to be called at this time. Pope John II was the first to adopt a new papal name; he felt that his original name, Mercurius, was inappropriate, as it was also the name of a Roman god. In most cases, even if such considerations are absent, Popes tend to choose new papal names; the last Pope to reign under his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II (1555). After the newly-elected Pope accepts his election, the Cardinal Dean again asks him about his papal name, saying in Latin: "Quo nomine vis vocari? (By what name shall you be called?)." After the papal name is chosen, the officials are readmitted to the conclave, and the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies writes a document recording the acceptance and the new name of the Pope.

Later, the new Pope goes to the "Room of Tears", a small red room next to the Sistine Chapel. The origin of the name is uncertain, but seems to imply the commixture of joy and sorrow felt by the newly chosen holder of the monumental office.[citation needed] The Pope dresses by himself, choosing a set of pontifical choir robes (white cassock, rochet and red mozzetta) among three sizes: small, medium and large. Then, he vests in a gold corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. He wears a white zuchetto on his head.

Next, the senior Cardinal Deacon (the Cardinal Protodeacon) appears at the main balcony of the basilica's façade to proclaim the new pope with the Latin phrase:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:
Habemus Papam!
Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum [forename],
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem [surname],
qui sibi nomen imposuit [papal name].

("I announce to you a great joy:
We have a Pope!
The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord,
Lord [forename],
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [surname],
who takes to himself the name [papal name].")

It has happened in the past that the Cardinal Protodeacon has himself been the person elected Pope. In such an event the announcement is made by the next senior Deacon, who has thus succeeded as Protodeacon. During the election of Pope Leo XIII in 1878 Protodeacon Prospero Caterini was physically incapable of completing the announcement, so another made it for him.

The new Pope then gives his first apostolic blessing, Urbi et Orbi ("to the City [Rome] and to the World").

Formerly, the Pope would later be crowned by the triregnum or Triple Tiara at the Papal Coronation. John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI did not want an elaborate coronation, choosing instead to have a simpler Papal Inauguration ceremony.[49]

Historical voting patterns

The newly elected pope often contrasts dramatically with his predecessor, a tendency expressed by the Italian saying "After a fat pope, a lean pope". Past cardinals have often voted for someone radically different from the pope who appointed them. The controversial one-time populist-turned-conservative, long-lived Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) was succeeded by the aristocratic and diplomatic Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903). He in turn was succeeded by the lower-class, bluntly outspoken Pope Pius X (1903–1914). Pius X's rugged ultra-conservatism contrasted with the low-key moderatism of Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922), which again contrasted with the former librarian-mountain climber Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), who led Roman Catholicism with an authoritarianism more akin to Pius X, who also shared his temper.

Pius XI was succeeded in 1939 by the aristocratic ultra-insider Curialist, Pius XI's Secretary of State, Pope Pius XII (1939–1958). Pius XII was seen as one of the great thinkers in the papacy in the 20th century. He was also the ultimate insider; his family were descended from the Roman aristocracy, with his brother working as a lawyer for the Holy See. Pius was succeeded by the lower-class, elderly, popular, informal Pope John XXIII (1958–1963). The contrast between diffident, intellectual and distant Pius XII and the humble—in his own words "ordinary"—"Good Pope John" was dramatic, with none more surprised at the election than Pope John himself, who had his own return rail ticket in his pocket when he was elected.

John proved to be a radical break with the two previous popes, and indeed with most of the popes of the 20th century. After a short but dramatic pontificate during which he convoked the Second Vatican Council which resulted in wide ranging changes in the church, the surprise John was replaced by the widely expected choice Giovanni Batista Montini, who many believed would have been elected in 1958, had he been a cardinal then. Like Pius XII, Montini (Pope Paul VI) (1963–1978) was a curialist. He had worked with Pacelli in the 1930s and 1940s in the curia. Yet Pope Paul VI was succeeded (albeit for a short time) by the non-curialist Pope John Paul I (1978), who gave the impression of being no insider, but "a simple, holy man".[50] He in turn was succeeded by the first non-Italian since 1523, Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), who spoke many languages and was originally from the Eastern Bloc (an important consideration given Cold War politics and the Church's repression in the East). And in 2005 the German Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) became the second non-Italian and the first German to be elected after Pope Adrian VI (an ethnic German born in what is now the independent Netherlands but was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, and who was thus arguably German in terms of ethnicity and citizenship).[51]

See also


  1. ^ a b c  Dowling, A. (1913). "Conclave". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  2. ^ Baumgartner, Frederick J. 2006 November 1. "Creating the Rules of the Modern Papal Election." Election Law Journal. 3: 57-73.
  3. ^  Goyau, Georges (1913). "Second Council of Lyons (1274)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  4. ^ a b Baumgartner, Frederic J. (2003) Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections, p.4; New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  5. ^ At the Lateran Synod of 13 April 1059 Nicholas II decreed (In nomine Domini) that the pope is to be elected by the six cardinal bishops. quoting in footnote 30 Hans Kühner, Das Imperium der Päpste (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980) 128: Eine Synode im Lateran brachte ein Papstwahldekret heraus, nach welchem Klerus und Volk der Kardinäle nur noch zustimmen konnten. College of Cardinals, Aquinas Publishing Ltd
  6. ^ a b c Universi Dominici Gregis on the vacancy of the apostolic see and the election of the roman pontiff
  7. ^ a b Motu Proprio De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis.
  8. ^ BBC News "Pope alters voting for successor."
  9. ^ a b c  Joyce, G. H. (1913). "Election of the Popes". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  10. ^  Loughlin, James F. (1913). "St. Ambrose". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  11. ^ a b c d  Fanning, W. H. W. (1913). "Papal Elections". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  12. ^ Baumgartner, p. 15-19
  13. ^ a b Baumgartner, pp. 21–23
  14. ^ a b  Sägmüller, Johannes Baptist (1913). "Cardinal (1)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  15. ^ Baumgartner, pp. 44–46.
  16. ^ Medieval Sourcebook: Council of Constance: Sacrosancta, 1415
  17. ^ What Do Cardinals Over 80 Do During a Conclave?, from Ask a Franciscan
  18. ^ Baumgartner, p. 13
  19. ^ Baumgartner, p. 215
  20. ^ Italians Feel They Need the Next Papacy for Themselves, by JASON HOROWITZ, Published: April 16, 2005
  21. ^  Kirsch, J.P. (1913). "Popess Joan". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  22. ^ Formerly, cardinals regularly had meals sent in from their homes, and much pageantry accompanied the conveyance of food, which was taken from a cardinal's home to the Vatican by a state coach. An officer known as the Seneschal Dapifer was responsible for ensuring that the food was not poisoned. The dishes, in small boxes covered with green and violet drapery, were carried through the hall, preceded by an individual carrying the cardinal's ceremonial mace and by the Seneschal Dapifer bearing a serviette on the shoulder. Before the cardinals could receive them, the dishes were carefully inspected to make sure that no correspondence was enclosed. These ceremonies have not been observed since the nineteenth century.
  23. ^ Pope changes rules for electing successor
  24. ^ Each ballot paper was divided into three parts; in the first was written the cardinal's name, in the second the name of the individual voted for, and in the third a motto of the cardinal's choice and the number of votes taken so far. The first and third divisions were folded down and sealed with wax, with the middle exposed; the back was heavily decorated so that the writing would not be visible (see illustration above). Thus, when the scrutineers (the vote counters) removed a ballot paper from the box, they could see only the name of the candidate selected. If a cardinal, present and voting, received exactly two-thirds of the votes cast, the ballot papers were unsealed, one by one, as to motto and number until the scrutineers located that cardinal's own vote and then the signature portion of that ballot only was opened to verify that the chosen cardinal did not vote for himself. No rounding was done until Pope John XXIII added that rule in 1962. For example, it is said that in 1939, Pius XII received 40 votes out of 62 on the second ballot. This meant he was elected, provided he had not voted for himself, and the opening of his ballot showed that he did not. It is reputed that he asked for an additional vote to confirm his election, since he did not want any chance of schism caused by his serving as nuncio to the Nazi regime. On the additional ballot he is said to have received every vote but his own. As papal elections are held in the strictest secrecy, with the threat of excommunication for revealing any information as to what occurred, the number of votes cast for Pius XII is speculative as is the story of a confirmation vote. Modern ballots differ from the complicated older ballots, in that the cardinals do not write anything other than the name of the individual for whom they are voting; furthermore, ballots are folded but once and not sealed with wax. This change in procedure has resulted in all the successors of Pius XII being chosen by a process that includes anonymous oaths on the part of the electors, and a cardinal may again vote for himself, which was allowed prior to 1621. However, prior to 1621, a cardinal did not take an oath when he cast his ballot, even if that ballot was secret. The cardinals voted before the election whether to use secret paper ballots, to vote verbally, or use the other methods of compromise or acclamation. The option of the body of electors to choose verbal voting was ended in 1621.
  25. ^  Peterson, John B. (1913). "Pope St. Boniface I". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  26. ^ The Owl, The Cat, And The Investiture Controversy
  27. ^  Sägmüller, Johannes Baptist (1913). "Right of Exclusion". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  28. ^ Unusual Conclaves
  29. ^ The practice of the conclave was institutionalised in 1274 at the Second Council of Lyons in the Apostolic Constitution, Ubi Periculum (Where danger...). The provisions were stringent and after five days, only bread, wine, and water would be the food for recalcitrant cardinals. The principle of the conclave worked and after some years, finally grew to be the common practice, both to protect the independence of the electors and to speed up the electoral process. Papal Election Procedure: Incarnate History and Faith in a Higher Good
  30. ^ See the article, Toward the conclave #5: a brief history of conclaves, from the Catholic News Service for a discussion of how the conclave evolved.
  31. ^ Domus Sanctae Marthae & The New Urns Used in the Election of the Pope from EWTN
  32. ^ Cardinal Sodano elected dean of College of Cardinals
  33. ^ Some have proposed the election of the pope by a special synod of bishops. This would imitate some of the Eastern-rite churches where metropolitans and patriarchs are elected by synods of bishops. Election by a special synod would be an attractive option, but the method for selecting the synod members would inevitably be controversial. Cardinals and Conclaves, By Thomas J. Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, America, November 19, 1994
  34. ^ The rules are contained in Universi Dominici Gregis on the vacancy of the apostolic see and the election of the roman pontiff
  35. ^ Toward the conclave #1: the office of camerlengo
  36. ^ Sede Vacante, from Aquinas publishing
  37. ^ For a description of John Paul II's burial see A pope among popes
  38. ^  Ott, Michael T. (1913). "Pope Gregory XII". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  39. ^ See the home page here
  40. ^ Homepage for Card. Tomáš Špidlík
  41. ^ Veni Creator Spiritus from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  42. ^ Cardinals Hold Last Meeting Before Conclave to Elect Pope, Voice of America, 16-04-2005
  43. ^ Fifteen to 20 days following the death of the pope the voting members of the College of Cardinals will begin a conclave to choose Pope John Paul II's successor. They will enter the Sistine Chapel declaring "Extra omnes!"—Latin for "Everyone else out!" Cardinals Gather to Mourn Pope, Choose Successor, 04.04.05, Newshour
  44. ^ If a Cardinal with the right to vote should refuse to enter Vatican City in order to take part in the election, or subsequently, once the election has begun, should refuse to remain in order to discharge his office, without manifest reason of illness attested to under oath by doctors and confirmed by the majority of the electors, the other Cardinals shall proceed freely with the election, without waiting for him or readmitting him. The Election of a New Pope, Malta Media
  45. ^ Universi dominici gregis, 42
  46. ^ 2 - Secret conclave, from the BBC
  47. ^ 3 - Voting rituals, from the BBC series "Choosing a Pope"
  48. ^ Thomas J. Resse, SJ; Inside The Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church; page 99, published 1996 by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674932617
  49. ^ 5 - New pope announced, Choosing a Pope, BBC
  50. ^ Journalistic mythmaking. Albino Luciani had a doctorate in Theology, had been a seminary professor; had published his doctoral thesis and a book called "Illustrissimi"; had visited Brazil, Burundi, Switzerland and Yugoslavia; had participated in all four sessions of Vatican II; had been elected by the Italian bishops to be a representative at the III and IV International Synods of Bishops; and had been the Vice-President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (1972-1975: the President is appointed by the Pope).
  51. ^ For more discussion on contrasts see John L. Allen, Jr. in Pope Hopefuls


  • Apostolic Constitution (1996). Universi Dominici Gregis.
  • Apostolic Constitution, Vacante Sede Apostolica, (25 December 1904): Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, III (1908) 239-288.
  • Apostolic Constitution, Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, (8 December 1945): Acta Apostolica Sedis 38 (4 February 1946), 65-99.
  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8.
  • Errata Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections [1]
  • Benedict XVI (2007). Motu Proprio De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis.
  • Burkle-Young, Francis A. (1999). Passing the Keys: Modern Cardinals, Conclaves, and the Election of the Next Pope. Madison Books: Lanham, Maryland.
  • Colomer, Josep M. and Iain McLean (1998). Electing Popes. Approval Balloting with Qualified-Majority Rule, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 29, 1, 1998: 1- 22. Also in: Robert Rotberg ed. Politics and Political Change. Boston: MIT Press, 2001: 47- 68.
  • "Conclave". (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  •  Dowling, A. (1913). "Conclave". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • "Electing the Pope: The Conclave." Catholic Almanac (2002).
  •  Fanning, W. H. W. (1913). "Papal Elections". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  •  Joyce, G. H. (1913). "Election of the Popes". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • National Geographic. (2004). "Inside the Vatican."
  • Reese, T. J. (1996). "Revolution in Papal Elections." America. (Volume 174, issue 12, p. 4)
  • How the Pope is Elected.
  • Scottish Catholic Media Office: Election of a Pope.
  • Von Pastor, Ludwig. History of the Papacy, Conclaves in the 16th century; Reforms of Pope Gregory XV, papal bulls: Aeterni Patris (1621) and Decet Romanum Pontificem (1622).
  • Wintle, W. J. (1903). "How the Pope is Elected." The London Magazine, June, 1903.
  • Classic Encyclopedia on line, from 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Creating the Rules of the Modern Papal Election Frederic J Baumgartner, Professor of History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Election Law Journal, Volume 5, Number 1, 2006, pages 57–73, copyright: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

External links

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