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 after a pope’s resignation are the same as those in force after a papal death, aside from skipping a period of mourning.
Here is the procedure:
— The Vatican summons a conclave of cardinals.
— Cardinals eligible to vote — those under age 80 — are sequestered within Vatican City and take an oath of secrecy.
—There are currently 115 cardinals under age 80 and eligible to vote.
— Any baptized Roman Catholic male is eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378.
— Two ballots are 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. Benedict did so to prevent cardinals from holding out for 12 days then pushing through a candidate who only had only a slim majority.
— 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 then imparts his first blessing.