Election rules

Election of the Pope, the papal conclave

The  papal conclave, the meeting of the College of Cardinals elects the new Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope, in case of the Popes death or resignation.

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 Rules

* Technically, any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope. If he is not a bishop, however, he must be first consecrated as one before he can assume office. If a priest is elected, the Cardinal Dean consecrates him bishop; if a layman is elected, then the Cardinal Dean first ordains him deacon, then priest, and only then consecrates him as bishop. Only after becoming a bishop does the pope-elect take office.

* The voting by cardinals to elect the next pope takes place behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, following a highly detailed procedure last revised by Pope John Paul II in the “Universi Dominici Gregis” of 22 February 1996, stating that cardinals who have reached the age of 80 before the day the see becomes vacant do not have a vote.

*The papal conclave must take place not before the 15. day and at the latest the 20. day after the Pope dies or resigns.

* The Cardinals must take an oath when they first enter the Conclave that they will follow the rules set down by the Pope and that they will maintain absolute secrecy about the voting and deliberations. 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.

* It is a secret vote, and the ballots can be cast once on the first day of the conclave, then normally twice during each subsequent morning and evening session. Except for periodic pauses, the voting continues until a new pontiff is elected.

* A two-thirds supermajority vote is required to elect the new pope.

* After all the noncardinals have left the chapel, the Cardinals all take seats around the wall of the Sistine Chapel and take a ballot paper which states “Eligo in summum pontificem” — “I elect as supreme Pontiff…”. They then write a name on it, fold it, and then proceed one by one to approach the altar, where a chalice stands with a paten on it. They hold up their ballot high to show that they have voted, then place it on the paten, and then slide it into the chalice. Meanwhile, any ballots from sick cardinals are collected and brought back to the chapel.
The votes are then counted by the Cardinal Camerlengo and his three assistants. Each assistant reads the name, reads the name aloud, writes it down on a tally sheet and then passes it to the next assistant. The last scrutineer pierces each ballot with a needle through the word “Eligo” and places it on a thread, so they can be secured.
Any handwritten notes made by the cardinals during the vote are collected for burning with the ballots. If the first vote of the morning or evening session is inconclusive, a second vote normally follows immediately, and the ballots from both votes are burned together at the end.

* 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.

* Johannes Paul’s II. change of procedur, that after 33 or 34 ballots a simple majority would be enough to elect a Pope, to increase the opportunity of electing the new Pope, was changed again by Benedict XVI, by declaring that in the following ballots, only the two names who received the most votes in the last ballot shall be eligible in a runoff election. However, the two people who are being voted on, if Cardinal electors, shall not themselves have the right to vote.

* If a new Pope has been elected, the ballots are burned immediately with chemicals (it used to be wet straw) to give white smoke. Otherwise, they give off black smoke, so that the waiting crowd,  and the world, know that the new Holy Father will soon emerge from the Sistine Chapel and appear on the balcony of the vatican.

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?)”

* The Cardinals then pledge their obedience to His Holiness in turn. The Proto-Deacon of the College of Cardinals then steps onto the main balcony of the Vatican and declares to the World: “Habemus Papam!” “We have a Pope!” and tells the waiting world who has been chosen as the new pope and the name he has decided to take as Pope.
His Holiness then appears on the Balcony and delivers his Apostolic Blessing to the city of Rome and to the World.