Vatican Process to Choose New Pope
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Published on Feb 11, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI is to resign at the end of the month, at the age of 85.
He is thought to the first pontiff to have stepped down since Gregory XII in 1415.
Canon Law states: "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone."
Cardinals summoned to Rome
The Dean of the College of Cardinals, the 85 year-old Italian Angelo Sodano, would be responsible for the convoking of a papal election - or Conclave.
Popes are chosen by the College of Cardinals - the Church's most senior officials, appointed by the Pope, who are usually ordained bishops - who are summoned to a meeting.
Known as "red hats" due to the scarlet colour of their vestments, there are currently 203 cardinals from 69 countries.
The most important official during the Conclave is a cardinal known as the camerlengo, or chamberlain. It is his job to supervise the whole election process.
Before the voting begins in the Sistine Chapel, the entire area is checked by security experts to ensure there are no hidden microphones or cameras.
They are allowed no contact with the outside world - barring a medical emergency. All radios and television sets are removed, no newspapers or magazines are allowed in, and mobile phones are banned.
Two doctors are allowed into the conclave, as well as priests who are able to hear confessions in various languages and housekeeping staff.
All these staff have to swear an oath promising to observe perpetual secrecy, and undertake not to use sound or video recording equipment.
Voting is held in the Sistine Chapel, "where everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged".
On the day the conclave begins, the cardinals celebrate Mass in the morning before walking in procession to the chapel.
Once the cardinals are inside the conclave area, they have to swear an oath of secrecy. Then, the Latin command "extra omnes" ("everyone out") instructs all those not involved in the election to leave before the doors are closed.
The cardinals have the option of holding a single ballot on the afternoon of the first day. From the second day, two ballots are held in the morning and two in the afternoon.
The ballot paper is rectangular. Printed on the upper half are the words "Eligio in Summum Pontificem" ("I elect as Supreme Pontiff"). Below is a space for the name of the person chosen. The cardinals are instructed to write the name in a way that does not identify them, and to fold the paper twice.
After all the votes have been cast, the papers are mixed, counted and opened.
As the papers are counted, one of the scrutineers calls out the names of those cardinals who have received votes. He pierces each paper with a needle - through the word "Eligio" - placing all the ballots on a single thread.
The ballot papers are then burned - giving off the smoke visible to onlookers outside which traditionally turns from black to white once a new pope has been chosen.
Damp straw was once added to the stove to turn the smoke black, but over the years there has often been confusion over the colour of the smoke.
If a second vote is to take place immediately, the ballots from the first vote are put on one side and then burned together with those from the second vote. The process continues until one candidate has achieved the required majority.
Reaching a decision
Under the new rules, in the initial stages of the conclave, a two-thirds majority is still necessary - with an additional vote if the number of electors is not exactly divisible by three.
If, after several days of deadlock, the majority has not been reached, the cardinals can decide to change the procedure to allow a candidate to be elected by winning more than half the votes.
The two-thirds rule encouraged cardinals to reach consensus, but under the new rules, if a candidate has the support of more than half the conclave at an early stage, yet falls short of a two-thirds majority, his supporters can decide to hold out until his election becomes possible with only half the vote.
If after three days of balloting nobody has gained the two-thirds majority, voting is suspended for a maximum of one day to allow a pause for prayer, informal discussion and what is described as "a brief spiritual exhortation" by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons.
At the end of the election, a document is drawn up giving the results of the voting at each session, and handed over to the new pope. It is kept in an archive in a sealed envelope, which can be opened only on the orders of the pope.
The only clue about what is going on inside the Sistine Chapel is the smoke that emerges twice a day from burning the ballot papers. Black signals failure. The traditional white smoke means a new pope has been chosen.
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