Q. Who Can Be Elected Pope?
Any Baptized Catholic male. However, since 1378, only Cardinals have been elected pope.
Q. Who Elects the Pope?
|Josef Wagner-Höhenberg, A Meeting of the Cardinals (1864)|
The right to elect the Roman Pontiff belongs exclusively to the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, with the exception of those who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day of the Roman Pontiff's death or the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant. The maximum number of Cardinal electors must not exceed one hundred and twenty. The right of active election by any other ecclesiastical dignitary or the intervention of any lay power of whatsoever grade or order is absolutely excluded.So only those Cardinals who are under age 80 at the time that the Holy See becomes vacant (which looks looks like it’ll be February 28, 2013). Those Cardinals over eighty may still “take part in the preparatory meetings of the Conclave,” but not in the Conclave itself.
This means, by the way, that the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (age 85), will not be attending the Conclave. Neither will the vice-dean, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray (age 90). The presiding Cardinal at the Conclave will instead by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (age 79), the most senior Cardinal-bishop.
Q. How Many Cardinals Are Eligible to Vote?
Of the 209 living Cardinals, only 117 will be voting in the Conclave. (most of the rest are too old). These 117 Cardinals are known as “Cardinal-electors.”
Q. What’s a Conclave?
The meeting of the Cardinal-electors to elect the next pope. The proceedings are highly confidential, and the Cardinal-electors are sequestered, meaning that they are prohibited from all contact with the outside world (including, of course, reading the newspaper, watching television, or listening to the radio). During this time, the Cardinal-electors will stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is said to be fairly simple, but the conditions for Cardinal-electors used to be much worse:
The Domus Sanctae Marthae (foreground)Prior to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis — promulgated on February 22, 1996 that changed the rules governing papal conclaves — participants were forced to sleep in the Apostolic Palace on rented cots, usually borrowed from seminaries in Rome. After participants were sealed under lock and key in the Apostolic Palace, the electors would live in makeshift rooms built throughout the palace, including within hallways and offices. The rooms, assigned to each Cardinal by lot, would often be constructed by nothing more than a sheet hanging on a rope. Sturdier walls would not be available because of the cost and because they would damage the Palace walls. In addition to the rented cots, each room would be equipped with a Crucifix and kneeler, a desk and one or two chairs. The Cardinals would have to share common bathrooms, often with ten Cardinals assigned to each. The situation would especially be difficult as a significant portion of Cardinals tend to be elderly.
Pope John Paul II, after himself participating in two Conclaves, decided to make the process more comfortable and less strenuous on the elderly Cardinals and commissioned the construction of Domus Sanctæ Marthæ.
The most extreme case that I know of came in the 13th century. At the time of Pope Clement IV, the Cardinals were divided. There were an equal number of French and Italian Cardinals, at a time when France was invading Italy at the time. The Cardinals deliberated nearly three years, from November 1268 to September 1, 1271, before settling on a papal legate, Tebaldo Visconti (who was not a Cardinal).
To “encourage” the deadlocked Cardinals to decide on a candidate, they local magistrates locked the Cardinal-electors into the Papal Palace of Viterbo (Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo). They then removed the roof to the building, and reduced the Cardinal-electors’ to a diet of bread and water (even after this, it still took more than a year to make a decision).
|Pope Gregory X|
Q. How Large of a Majority is Required?
Two-thirds, rounding up if the number of Cardinal-electors isn’t divisible by three. In this case, there are 117 Cardinal-electors, meaning that the next pope will have been chosen by at least 79 of the Cardinal-electors.
[In 1996, John Paul II modified this general rule slightly: after 30 or 31 ballots, the Cardinal-electors could (by simple majority) change the majority required for the election, provided that it remained at least a simple majority. In 2007, Benedict XVI changed the rule back, the only change to the Conclave process since 1996.]
Q. When Will the Conclave Begin?
February 28, 2013 is the day that Pope Benedict is scheduled to resign. The Cardinals will then wait fifteen days (until March 15) to begin the Conclave: that date can be pushed back until as late as March 20, for serious reasons.
Generally, this period of time is spent handling things like a papal funeral: and it’s tactful to give time to send off the deceased pope before replacing him. But in this case, since Benedict XVI isn’t dead, there is talk of changing the timetable. Barring a change to the rules, however, March 15 is the earliest day that the Conclave can begin.
Q. What Happens Between Now and Then?
Either way, it isn’t as if the Cardinals will be spending early March simply twiddling their thumbs. A number of the Cardinal-electors have important day jobs. For example, Cardinal Dolan is (amongst other things) Archbishop of New York and president of the USCCB. That creates a duty “to make necessary arrangements, before the beginning of the election, for the handling of all non-deferrable official or personal business.” So it’s unlikely that they’ll be spending early March simply twiddling their thumbs.
Additionally, during early March, the entire College of Cardinals (including those over eighty) will assemble for what’s called a General Congregation. Typically, these General Congregations decide on the logistics of the deceased pope’s funeral. Since Benedict isn’t dead, they’ll just do the other parts:
|Pope Benedict’s |
- Ensuring the destruction of Benedict’s “Fisherman's Ring” (his official papal ring), and the lead seal that he uses for Apostolic Letters;
- Handling various administrative issues during the sede vacante (vacant See), like approving the expenses of running Vatican City;
- Preparing for the Conclave (assigning rooms, setting the schedule for voting, etc.);
- Selecting “two ecclesiastics known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority the task of presenting to the Cardinals two well-prepared meditations on the problems facing the Church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope.”
This last task lets the entire College of Cardinals get a sense (or express a sense) of the most pressing problems facing the Church. Hopefully, this will help the Cardinal-electors in the prayerful deliberation to come.
There are also Particular Congregations created to handle specific jobs. The logistics of organizing the papal election, and ensuring its secrecy, can be a bit daunting, like “sweeping” the Vatican Apostolic Palace, to ensure that no one has bugged it with audio or visual devices in order to record the secret proceedings.
Q. What Happens During the Conclave Itself?
|Michelangelo, The Last Judgment (1541)|
Between March 15-20, the Conclave itself will begin. The Cardinals stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and deliberate and vote in the Sistine Chapel, and provisions are made to ensure that no one speaks to them en route. This is also the reason for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel: to remind the voting Cardinals of the eternal consequences of their actions.
On the first day, each Cardinal swears an oath of secrecy. Once they have finished, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations gives the order “Extra omnes,” which means that everyone else has to leave. The Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations stays behind with the Cardinal-electors, and a priest (previously chosen by the General Congregation), who preaches to the Cardinal-electors the second meditation, “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church.”
They then proceed to voting. Depending on the schedule set by the General Congregation, voting begins on either the first or the second day. If it is on the first day, they vote only once (in the afternoon). After the first day, voting occurs four times a day: twice during the morning session, and twice during the evening session. If the Cardinals have not decided on anyone after three days, they take a break (of up to one day) to pray and informally deliberate. They then vote up to seven more times. If they still haven’t elected a pope, they take another break, “for prayer, discussion and an exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Priests.” Then, it’s back to voting again.
Q. How does the Voting work?
Previously, there were three permissible forms of voting:
- Election by compromise: the Cardinal-electors, if they wanted, could unanimously designate select a group of nine-to-fifteen Cardinals, who would then make the choice for the whole Conclave. This method of voting, which was how the deadlocked Cardinals finally selected Pope Gregory X, was last used in 1316, and is no longer permitted.
- Election by acclamation: the Cardinal-electors shouted out the name of their preferred candidate. This was last used in 1621, and is also no longer permitted.
- Election by scrutiny: the Cardinal-electors vote by secret ballot. This is the only permitted method presently, and has been the method used for centuries. These votes are then counted by three randomly-selected Cardinals (called “Scrutatorum,” or “Scrutineers”), while three others gather the ballots of any sick members (“Infirmarii”), and three others ensure that the Scrutineers are doing their jobs properly (“Recognitorum,” or “Revisers”).
If I am not mistaken, new Scrutineers, Infirmarii, and Revisers are selected for each session, meaning that the same group of Cardinals doesn’t oversee more than two votes.
In the current method, each Cardinal-elector writes the name of the man he believes should be the next pope on his ballot, disguising his handwriting. He then folds the ballot. If he is able-bodied, he then proceeds to the altar, and swears, “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” before depositing the ballot in the box. If a Cardinal is in the Sistine chapel, but too weak to process to the altar, one of the Scrutineers will come to him. After this, the three Infirmarii take ballots and an empty ballot box to the Domus Sanctae Marthae for any bed-ridden Cardinal-electors.
|Newly-elected Pope Pius XI giving the Apostolic Blessing |
Urbi et Orbi from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.
Once all of the ballots are collected, the ballot box is shaken, and ballots are counted. If no one has two-thirds, the ballots are burnt along with damp straw. The black smoke signals to the people awaiting outside that we don’t yet have a pope. If someone does garner a two-thirds vote, they then ask him to become pope:
The Cardinal Dean, or the Cardinal who is first in order and seniority, in the name of the whole College of electors, then asks the consent of the one elected in the following words: Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff? And, as soon as he has received the consent, he asks him: By what name do you wish to be called? Then the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, acting as notary and having as witnesses two Masters of Ceremonies, who are to be summoned at that moment, draws up a document certifying acceptance by the new Pope and the name taken by him.
The pope-elect is free to decline, but generally, Cardinals unwilling to become pope announce this if there’s any risk of their being elected. If the man accepts, we have our next pope! At this point, in the pope-elect isn’t yet a Bishop, he’s immediately ordained. If he is already a bishop, his acceptance becomes the pope instantaneously upon his consent. The Cardinals then “approach the newly-elected Pope in the prescribed manner, in order to make an act of homage and obedience,” and the Conclave ends “immediately after the new Supreme Pontiff assents to his election, unless he should determine otherwise.”
The Cardinals then make an act of Thanksgiving to God, and the Cardinal Proto-Deacon, Jean-Louis Tauran, announces to the public, assembled in St. Peter's Square, “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a Pope!”). The new pope then comes out and imparts the Apostolic Blessing Urbi et Orbi from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.