Electing a Pope: Conclave, oath & chimney smoke

By: AP
By: AP
Pope Benedict XVI

Credit: AP

Pope Benedict XVI's resignation sets in motion a complex sequence of events to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The laws governing the selection are the same as those in force after a papal death. Here is the procedure:

- The Vatican summons a conclave of cardinals that must begin 15-20 days after Benedict's Feb. 28 resignation.

- Cardinals eligible to vote - those under age 80 - are sequestered within Vatican City and take an oath of secrecy.

- Any baptized Roman Catholic male is eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378.

- Two ballots held each morning and two each afternoon in the Sistine Chapel. A two-thirds majority is required. Benedict in 2007 reverted back to this two-thirds majority rule, reversing a 1996 decision by Pope John Paul II, who had decreed that a simple majority could be invoked after about 12 days of inconclusive voting.

- Ballots are burned after each round. Black smoke means no decision; white smoke signals that cardinals have chosen pope and he has accepted. Bells also signal the election of a pope to help avoid possible confusion over color of smoke coming from chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

- The new pope is introduced from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square with the words "Habemus Papam!" (Latin for "We have a pope!") and he imparts his first blessing.


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