What Happens During a Papal Conclave?


We will have a new pope.

Pope Benedict’s resignation becomes effective February 28, at 8 pm. The See of Peter will not be vacant long. In a short time, the College of Cardinals will convene for the Papal Conclave to elect a new pope.

Catholics and other Christians the world over are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide this conclave as they select the man who will lead the Church through the times ahead. This Lent is like no other because of the Holy Father’s resignation and the transition to a new pope.

History is making while we are watching. I pray that this will lead to a new springtime in the Church, a renewal of faith and faithfulness from everyone who bends their knee to Our Lord Jesus.

The following CNA article gives a brief description of the general procedures that the cardinals follow when they are electing a pope. It says in part:

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2013 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will soon be elected during a conclave, a secret vote of cardinals that will occur in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel next month.

The number of cardinal-electors, who will travel to Rome from across the globe, is limited to 120, and only those cardinals who are not yet 80 are allowed to vote in the conclave.

Conclaves are events of “the strictest secrecy,” to preserve the impartiality of proceedings.

… The cardinals are not allowed to communicate with those outside the area of the election. Only a limited number of masters of ceremonies and priests are allowed to be present, as are two medical doctors. The cardinal-electors stay at “Saint Martha’s House,” a guest house adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica.

While the papacy is vacant, all the heads of the Roman Curia lose their office, except the Camerlengo – who administers Church finances and property – and the Major Penitentiary, who deals with issues of absolution and indulgences.

The conclave begins with the votive Mass for the election of the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. The cardinals then invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and enter the Sistine Chapel.

A well-trusted priest presents the cardinals with a meditation on the problems facing the Church and the need for discernment, “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church, having only God before their eyes.”

The priest who offered the meditation then leaves the Sistine Chapel, and the voting process begins.

John Paul II allowed for a simple majority for a valid election, but Pope Benedict’s “Constitutione apostolica” returned to the long-standing tradition of a two-thirds majority.

Each cardinal writes his choice for Pope on a piece of paper which is folded in two. The ballots are then counted, double-checked, and burned. The voting process continues until one candidate has received two-thirds of the ballots.

When the ballots of an inconclusive vote are burned, the smoke is made black. If the vote elected a Pope, it is white.

… The man elected is immediately the Bishop of Rome upon his acceptance, assuming he has already been consecrated a bishop. One of the cardinals announce to the public that the election has taken place, and the new Pontiff gives a blessing from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.

Pope Benedict will resign at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, and at that time there will be 117 cardinal-electors. (Read the rest here.)

  • Bill S

    “Catholics and other Christians the world over are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide this conclave as they select the man who will lead the Church through the times ahead. ”

    There is nothing I can say about this sentence that won’t be deleted. You do know that this is a political process. IMO, as usual, I do not see the workings of the Holy Spirit in the election of the Pope. Of course, this is coming from someone with zero belief in the supernatural, so take it for what it is worth. Please don’t delete me. I’m trying to be as diplomatic as I can be, given the subject matter.

    • Theodore Seeber

      History Channel did an excellent series on Karol Wojtyla’s life (JPII). It’s probably available online, and actually includes a dramatization of the released records of the election of two Popes (JPI and JPII).

      Basically, in both cases, you’re right about how the conclave *started*, but wrong about how it *finished*. In fact, the political front runners usually aren’t the ones who are elected in the end (due to political gridlock in the college).

      • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

        the Roman proverb says that if a man enters the Conclave as Pope, he will leave it as a cardinal. Front runners rarely win. Nobody expected John XXIII or John Paul II to be elected; in fact, when the name of the latter was announced, there was a silence around St.Peter’s square, as if everyone were wondering, “Who the Heck?”

  • Peg

    Thanks for all the updates–keep them coming. With all the snow, illness in our house and work deadlines it’s hard to keep up. Lots to offer up for both popes.

    The Holy Spirit is so real and powerful and will always protect our church.

    Bill what does IMO stand for?

  • Bill S

    In my opinion. It actually applies to everything I say anyway. So it is redundant.

    • Oregon Catholic

      That’s because you have rejected Truth as the basis for what you believe and now all you have is your personal opinion. That in a nutshell is the difference between the bedrock of Catholic morality and the shifting sands of moral relativism.

  • Bill S

    Oh really now? Catholic morality is better than fairness and open-mindedness? You have built your house on bedrock and I on shifting sands?

    Maybe I qualify what I say by saying it is only my opinion. But you’re all big on doctrine and dogma. Your truth prevails for 2000 years without ever being wrong. Sure.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I see nothing of either fairness nor openmindedness in most of what you write Bill S. In fact, rather the opposite, you seem to be utterly closed to having an open mind about many topics.

  • Sus

    However it happens, it is interesting. I was a little kid when Pope John Paul I and II were elected. I remember being fascinated that my parents cared given we weren’t Catholic.

    I’m praying that whoever is elected will face modern times. I don’t mean gays, contraception, women priests or abortion. I mean someone who is going to clean house. Take action against the scandals. Being open and transparent will prevent further scandal.

    The snarky side of me wonders if any of the Cardinals vote for themselves.

    • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

      I seem to remember that it is forbidden, but I might be wrong. It is certainly not done. It is known that even unanimous conclaves always end with two names, because the victor always votes for someone else, but I don’t know whether it’s a habit or a law. It happened when John XXIII was elected; his own vote went to a French cardinal.

  • Bill S

    “I mean someone who is going to clean house. ”

    Sean O’Malley from Boston would do just that.

    • Sus

      I agree Bill. I like him so much. He’s done a fabulous job in Boston.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I don’t see him as being Catholic enough. He’s got too much Americanism in him. He will not be able to lead populations in Africa or South America, where tolerance of political free speech is not allowed to conflict with Church Teaching as much.

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