World

How a new pope is elected

Conclave, oath, chimney smoke

White smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican after a new pope was elected on April 19, 2005.
REUTERS/File
White smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican after a new pope was elected on April 19, 2005.

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.

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

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—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.

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— 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.