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More than 100 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered to Vatican for a new pope election. At some point, white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel will show that a decision has been made.

What goes on behind the closed doors before the smoke appears?

Here are 10 lesser-known facts about the papal conclave.

1. It’s a lock-in. Conclave comes from the Latin “cum-clave” meaning literally “with key” – the cardinal-electors will be locked in the Sistine Chapel each day until Benedict XVI’s successor is chosen. The tradition dates back to 1268, when after nearly three years of deliberation the cardinals had still not agreed on a new pope, prompting the people of Rome to hurry things up by locking them up and cutting their rations. Duly elected, the new pope, Gregory X, ruled that in future cardinals should be sequestered from the start of the conclave.

2. Spying is tricky. During the conclave they are allowed no contact with the outside the world – no papers, no TV, no phones, no Twitter. And the world is allowed no contact with them. The threat of excommunication hangs over any cardinal who breaks the rules.

Before the conclave starts, the Sistine Chapel is swept for recording equipment and hidden cameras. It is a myth that a fake floor is laid to cater for anti-bugging devices… Anti-bugging devices are used, and the floor is raised, but only to protect the marble mosaic floor.

3. Portable loos play an essential role. Until 2005, the cardinals endured Spartan conditions in makeshift “cells” close to the Sistine Chapel. They slept on hard beds and were issued with chamber pots. Pope John Paul II changed that with the construction of a five-storey 130-room guest house near St Peter’s – Domus Sanctae Marthae (St Martha’s House). But cardinals still have to rough it while voting. In an interview with the Catholic News Service last week, Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museum said: “I believe they may be installing portable chemical toilets inside the chapel.”

4. An “interregnum” is ending. The pontificate used to be known as a “reign” – hence the period between two popes being called an interregnum (“between reigns”). Many of the regal trappings of the papacy were set aside by Pope Paul VI, who began his pontificate in 1963 with a coronation, but never wore the beehive-shaped papal tiara again.

More than 100 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered to Vatican for a new pope election

More than 100 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered to Vatican for a new pope election

5. Counted votes are sewn up. The cardinals hold one vote on day one and then two each morning and afternoon until a candidate wins a two-thirds majority. Each writes his choice on a slip of paper, in disguised handwriting, and folds it in half. Cardinals then process to the altar one by one and place the ballots in an urn. The papers are mixed, counted, opened and scrutinized by three cardinals, the third of whom passes a needle and thread through the counted votes. At the end of each morning and afternoon session the papers are burned.

6. Chemicals color the smoke. Those 115 ballot papers produce an unusual amount of smoke… which pours out of a chimney specially installed on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. A chemical is mixed with the paper to produce black smoke when voting is inconclusive, or white smoke when a pope has been elected. But even the white smoke looks dark against a bright sky, so to avoid any possible confusion, white smoke is accompanied by the pealing of bells. In 2005, though, the official responsible for authorizing the bells was temporarily occupied with other duties, so there was a period of confusion while white smoke billowed out, and the bells of St Peter’s remained silent.

7. Robes are prepared in S, M and L. The Pope has to look the part when he is presented to the faithful from a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square. So papal tailors Gammarelli prepare three sets of vestments – in small, medium and large sizes. These will include a white cassock, a white silk sash, a white zucchetto (skullcap), red leather shoes and a red velvet mozzetta or capelet with ermine trim – a style revived by Benedict XVI. The Pope dresses by himself, donning a gold-corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. (Popes traditionally wore red, but in 1566 St Pius V, a Dominican, decided to continue wearing his white robes. Only the Pope’s red mozzetta, capelet and shoes remain from the pre-1566 days.)

8. Huge bets are laid. Experts suggest more than $15 million will be wagered as people guess which cardinal will get the nod – making this the world’s most bet-upon non-sporting event. It’s not a new phenomenon. In 1503 betting on the pope was already referred to as “an old practice”. Pope Gregory XIV was so cheesed off that in 1591 he threatened punters with excommunication, but the gambling continues unabated. Prominent Italian and Latin American names currently lead the field.

9. Just say yes. Technically, an elected Pope can refuse to take up the position, but it’s not really done to turn down the Holy Spirit. That said, few relish the prospect of leading the world’s largest Church, beset as it is at the moment with falling congregation numbers, sex abuse scandals and internal wrangling. So many new popes are overcome with emotion after their election that the first room they enter, to dress for the balcony scene, is commonly known as the Room of Tears.

10. There is no gender test. Chairs with a large hole cut in the seat are sometimes thought to have been used to check the sex of a new Pope. The story goes that the aim of the checks was to prevent a repeat of the scandal of “Pope Joan”, a legendary female cardinal supposedly elected pope in the 14th Century. Most historians agree that the Joan story is nonsense. Examples of the chairs, the sedes stercoraria, are apparently held in museums, but their purpose is unclear. One unconfirmed theory is that they were used to check that the new pope had not been castrated.

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Cardinals are beginning their second day of deliberations in the Vatican conclave to elect a new pope, after an indecisive vote on Tuesday.

The 115 cardinal-electors are shut off in the Sistine Chapel and a nearby residence until two-thirds agree on a leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Black smoke signaling an inconclusive first vote drew cheers from crowds in St Peter’s Square on Tuesday evening.

There is no clear frontrunner to replace Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinals will vote four times daily until a single candidate garners enough support – at which point the smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel chimney will be white.

After celebrating Mass this morning, they returned to the Sistine Chapel to resume voting.

They can vote twice in the morning. If those ballots are inconclusive, black smoke will once again rise from the chimney and the election will resume after lunch.

Voting takes place in silence, with no formal debate, until a decision is reached. If that does not happen after three days, there may be a pause for prayer and informal discussion for a maximum of one day.

Crowds who had braved rain and storms to watch the cardinals go into the conclave on big screens in St Peter’s Square cheered as the black smoke appeared at 19:41 on Tuesday.

“I thought it was going to be white, because they were late. I thought it was going to be white, but I was wrong,” said Paolo Paparini, a 76-year-old man waiting faithfully among the crowd told the Associated Press news agency.

“Without a pope I feel bereft, like an orphan. I pray to give the cardinals the strength to choose the right man to lead the Church,” French priest Guillaume Le Floch told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

“It cannot be an easy decision, but the Church needs a great leader now more than ever. The cardinals have a chance to astonish us,” he said.

Cardinals are beginning their second day of deliberations in the Vatican conclave to elect a new pope, after an indecisive vote on Tuesday

Cardinals are beginning their second day of deliberations in the Vatican conclave to elect a new pope, after an indecisive vote on Tuesday

At one point feminist activists from the Ukrainian Femen group set off flares of pink smoke in the square to highlight what their website calls “the bloody violent history of Christianity” and the group’s “determination to combat sexism of religion”.

The topless protesters were dragged away by police.

From now on the cardinals – all under 80, as those over 80 are excluded – will eat, vote and sleep in closed-off areas until a new pope is chosen.

Jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel should block all electronic communication and anyone tweeting would in any case risk being excommunicated.

Papal conclave timetable – second day:

  • 09:30 – Prayer followed by voting in the Sistine Chapel. Black smoke will emerge if two morning ballots are inconclusive. White smoke will appear as soon as there is a positive outcome
  • Smoke could come any time between about 10:30 and 12:30
  • 12:30 – If no pope is elected, cardinals go back to their residence for lunch
  • 16:00 – Cardinals return to the Sistine Chapel for another two rounds of voting – smoke expected between 17:30 and 19:30
  • If there is no result by Friday, they will hold a day of prayer and reflection on Saturday before resuming the election

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Cardinals have begun voting to elect a new Pope at the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.

The 115 cardinal-electors were locked in the chapel after swearing an oath of secrecy.

They will vote four times daily until two-thirds can agree on a candidate.

The election was prompted by the surprise abdication of Benedict XVI. There is no clear frontrunner to take over from him as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The 85-year-old Benedict stepped down last month, saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church, which is beset by problems ranging from a worldwide scandal over child sex abuse to allegations of corruption at the Vatican Bank.

His resignation and the recent damage to the Church’s reputation make the choice of the cardinal-electors especially hard to predict.

They will weigh pressure for a powerful manager to reform the Vatican against calls for a new pope able to inspire the faithful, our correspondent adds.

At 16:30 local time on Tuesday, 115 cardinal-electors – all under 80, as those over 80 are excluded – entered the Sistine Chapel for the secret conclave to select Benedict’s successor, chanting the traditional Litany of the Saints.

Each man in turn stepped up and placed his hands on the Gospel to swear an oath in Latin.

Afterwards Msgr Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, called out the words “Extra omnes” – “Everybody out” – and the chapel doors were locked to outsiders.

From now on the cardinals will eat, vote and sleep in closed-off areas until a new pope is chosen.

Jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel should block all electronic communication and anyone tweeting would in any case risk being excommunicated.

Cardinals were now expected listen to a meditation by elderly Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech before holding a first vote, after which their ballot papers will be burned.

The smoke that will drift out of the chapel’s chimney early in the evening is likely to be black – meaning no Pope has been elected.

Cardinals have begun voting to elect a new Pope at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel

Cardinals have begun voting to elect a new Pope at the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel

From Wednesday, two votes will be held each morning and afternoon – with ballots burned after each session – until one candidate attains a two-thirds majority (77 votes).

Then the smoke will be white, meaning the 266th bishop of Rome will have been chosen.

Earlier on Tuesday the cardinals attended a “Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff” in St Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, praised the “brilliant pontificate” of Pope Benedict and implored God to grant another “Good Shepherd” to lead the church.

He outlined the mission Catholics believe was given by Jesus Christ to St Peter – the first Pope – emphasizing love and sacrifice, evangelization and the unity of the church.

The speech was more measured in tone than the address given in 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict, which featured a fiery attack on the “dictatorship of relativism”.

On Tuesday morning several cardinals took to Twitter to say goodbye to their followers before being cut off from the outside world.

“Last tweet before the conclave: May Our Father hear and answer with love and mercy all prayers and sacrifices offered for a fruitful outcome,” South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier tweeted.

Benedict – now known as Pope emeritus – resigned on 28 February after eight years in office, citing ill health. He was the first Pope in six centuries to do so.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005, he was the marked favorite ahead of the conclave and was elected pope after just four rounds of voting.

The vote for his successor is expected to take much longer.

After 10 general congregations open to all cardinals, regardless of age – at which 160 cardinals spoke of the issues facing the Church and the qualities needed by its next leader – no clear frontrunner has emerged.

“Last time around there was a man of stature, three or four times that of any other cardinal,” French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin told reporters.

“That is not the case this time around. Therefore, the choice has to be made among one, two, three, four… a dozen candidates.

“We still don’t really know anything. We will have to wait for the results of the first ballot.”

New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan told his priests there was hope that a new Pope could be chosen by Thursday.

Candidates named as contenders include Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Brazil’s Odilo Scherer, and Cardinal Dolan himself – though he told one interviewer anyone who thought he was in with a chance might be “smoking marijuana”.

Conclave in numbers

  • 115 cardinal-electors
  • Two-thirds – or 77 – need to agree on papal candidate
  • Four votes per day, two in the morning and two in the evening
  • Chosen candidate will be 266th Pope
  • He will lead world’s 1.2 billion Catholics

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The Vatican is considering calls from cardinals to hold a papal conclave earlier than planned, after Pope Benedict XVI steps down on February 28.

Catholic Church officials want a successor to be in place before the start of Holy Week on March 24 – the most important event in the Christian calendar.

Under current rules, the vote cannot be held before March 15, to give cardinals enough time to travel to Rome.

The Vatican is now examining the possibility of changing the rule.

According to the Holy See’s constitution, a 15-20 day waiting period must be observed after the papacy becomes vacant.

The rule is in place to allow “all those [cardinals] who are absent” sufficient time to make the journey to Rome, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

But the prospect of bringing forward the date had been raised by a number of cardinals, he added.

And given that they already knew when Pope Benedict was stepping down, they would have plenty of time to plan their trip.

“It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy,” Federico Lombardi said.

The rules on papal succession were open to interpretation and “this is a question that people are discussing”, he said.

Officials in charge want to ensure that Pope Benedict’s successor is installed well in time for the liturgical celebrations at Easter, the most important date in the church’s calendar.

As there is no precedent in modern times for the resignation of a pope, ecclesiastical lawyers are having to re-examine very carefully the rules for papal elections laid down in past centuries and updated most recently by Pope Benedict himself, our correspondent explains.

Some of the 117 Cardinal electors from around the world who will choose the next pope in a secret ballot in the Sistine Chapel are expected to begin arriving in Rome as early as next week, he says.

As soon as there is a quorum, they will decide on a date to begin their conclave. In order to be elected, the new pope will need a majority of two thirds plus one vote.

Pope Benedict XVI was elected after only four ballots in 2005.

The 85-year-old pontiff announced his shock resignation last Monday, citing his advanced age as the reason for stepping down.

Pope Benedict is expected to spend his retirement in a monastery at the Vatican.

Last week, Pope Benedict hinted he would withdraw into seclusion at the end of this month.

“Even if I am withdrawing into prayer, I will always be close to all of you… even if I remain hidden to the world,” he told a meeting of priests in Rome.

The last pontiff to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who quit in 1415 amid a schism within the Church.


Pope Benedict XVI is to resign on February 28, 2013, at the age of 85. He is thought to the first pontiff to have stepped down since Gregory XII in 1415.

Canon Law states: “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”

Pope Benedict’s resignation has set in motion the centuries-old process of electing a new pope.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals, the 85-year-old Italian Angelo Sodano, would be responsible for the convoking a meeting of cardinals for the papal election – or Conclave.

Popes are chosen by the College of Cardinals – the Church’s most senior officials, appointed by the Pope and usually ordained bishops – who are summoned to a meeting.

There are currently 203 cardinals from 69 countries. The rules of the Conclave were changed in 1975 to exclude all cardinals over the age of 80 and the maximum number of cardinal electors is 120. During the forthcoming Conclave, there will be 117 cardinals who are younger than 80 and thereby eligible to vote.

Sixty-seven of these were appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, and 50 by his predecessor John Paul II. About half (61) are European, and 21 are Italian. There will also be 19 Latin Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and one cardinal from Oceania among the voters.

During the time between the Pope’s resignation and the election of his successor, the college of cardinals will govern the Church, headed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as the cardinal camerlengo – or chamberlain.

It is his job to supervise the whole election process, with secret votes being held twice daily inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. During the Conclave, cardinals reside within the Vatican and are not permitted any contact with the outside world.

During this period all the cardinals – retirees included – will begin to discuss in strict secrecy the merits of likely candidates.

The cardinals do not have to choose one of their own number – theoretically any baptized male Catholic can be elected pope – but tradition says that they will almost certainly give the job to a cardinal.

The Vatican talks about the cardinals being guided by the Holy Spirit. But although open campaigning is forbidden, a papal election is still a highly political process.

The coalition-builders have about two weeks to forge alliances and senior cardinals who may themselves have little chance of becoming pope can still exert a considerable influence over the others.

The election of a pope is conducted in conditions of secrecy unique in the modern world.

The cardinals are shut away in the Vatican until they reach agreement – the meaning of the word conclave indicating that they are literally locked up “with a key”.

The election process can take days. In previous centuries it has gone on for weeks or months and some cardinals have even died during conclaves.

The process is designed to prevent any of the details of the voting emerging, either during or after the conclave. The threat of excommunication hangs over anyone tempted to break this silence.

John Paul II changed the rules of the Conclave so a Pope could be elected by simple majority. But Benedict XVI changed the requirements back so that a two-thirds-plus-one vote is required, meaning the man elected is likely to be a compromise candidate.

Before the voting begins in the Sistine Chapel, the entire area is checked by security experts to ensure there are no hidden microphones or cameras.

Once the conclave has begun, the cardinals eat, vote and sleep within closed-off areas until a new pope has been chosen.

They are allowed no contact with the outside world – barring a medical emergency. All radios and television sets are removed, no newspapers or magazines are allowed in, and mobile phones are banned.

Two doctors are allowed into the conclave, as well as priests who are able to hear confessions in various languages and housekeeping staff.

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign on February 28, 2013, at the age of 85

Pope Benedict XVI is to resign on February 28, 2013, at the age of 85

All these staff have to swear an oath promising to observe perpetual secrecy, and undertake not to use sound or video recording equipment.

Voting is held in the Sistine Chapel, “where everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged”.

On the day the conclave begins, the cardinals celebrate Mass in the morning before walking in procession to the chapel.

Once the cardinals are inside the conclave area, they have to swear an oath of secrecy. Then, the Latin command “extra omnes” (“everyone out”) instructs all those not involved in the election to leave before the doors are closed.

The cardinals have the option of holding a single ballot on the afternoon of the first day. From the second day, two ballots are held in the morning and two in the afternoon.

The ballot paper is rectangular. Printed on the upper half are the words “Eligio in Summum Pontificem” (“I elect as Supreme Pontiff”). Below is a space for the name of the person chosen. The cardinals are instructed to write the name in a way that does not identify them, and to fold the paper twice.

After all the votes have been cast, the papers are mixed, counted and opened.

As the papers are counted, one of the scrutineers calls out the names of those cardinals who have received votes. He pierces each paper with a needle – through the word “Eligio” – placing all the ballots on a single thread.

The ballot papers are then burned – giving off the smoke visible to onlookers outside which traditionally turns from black to white once a new pope has been chosen.

Damp straw was once added to the stove to turn the smoke black, but over the years there has often been confusion over the color of the smoke. More recently a dye has been used.

If a second vote is to take place immediately, the ballots from the first vote are put on one side and then burned together with those from the second vote. The process continues until one candidate has achieved the required majority.

Pope John Paul II changed the rules of election in 1996. Previously, a candidate had to secure a majority of two-thirds plus one to be elected pope.

John Paul II ruled that the voting could shift to a simple majority after about 12 days of inconclusive voting.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI passed a decree reverting back to the two-thirds plus one vote majority, thus encouraging cardinals to reach consensus, rather than one bloc backing a candidate with more than half the votes and then holding out for 12 days to ensure his election.

If after three days of balloting nobody has gained the two-thirds majority, voting is suspended for a maximum of one day to allow a pause for prayer, informal discussion and what is described as “a brief spiritual exhortation” by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons.

At the end of the election, a document is drawn up giving the results of the voting at each session, and handed over to the new pope. It is kept in an archive in a sealed envelope, which can be opened only on the orders of the pope.

The only clue about what is going on inside the Sistine Chapel is the smoke that emerges twice a day from burning the ballot papers. Black signals failure. The traditional white smoke means a new pope has been chosen.

After the election of the new pope has been signaled by white smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel chimney, there will be a short delay before his identity is finally revealed to the world.

Once one candidate has attained the required majority, he is then asked: “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?”

Having given his consent, the new pope is asked: “By what name do you wish to be called?”

After he has chosen a name, the other cardinals then approach the new pope to make an act of homage and obedience.

The new pope also has to be fitted into his new robes. The papal tailor will have prepared garments to dress a pope of any size – small, medium or large – but some last-minute adjustments may be required.

Then, from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, the traditional announcement will echo around the square: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum… habemus papam!” – “I announce to you a great joy… we have a pope!”

His name is then revealed, and the newly-elected pontiff will make his first public appearance.

After saying a few words, the pope will give the traditional blessing of Urbi et Orbi – “to the city and the world” – and a new pontificate will have begun.

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On Friday, cardinals new and old attended a closed-door meeting pondering how to bring back faith in increasingly secular countries

On Friday, cardinals new and old attended a closed-door meeting pondering how to bring back faith in increasingly secular countries

Pope Benedict XVI has recognized 22 new cardinals – his closest aides – at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican.

The new “princes of the church” will be given red hats called birettas and gold rings at the “consistory”.

On Friday, cardinals new and old attended a closed-door meeting pondering how to bring back faith in increasingly secular countries.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said a “creative strategy” was needed.

Giving the keynote speech at the meeting, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the Church should accentuate its positive side, and would accomplish what it terms the “new evangelization” with “a smile, not a frown”.

The popular 62-year-old archbishop – who is reportedly being followed by about a dozen US television crews – is one of those set to become a cardinal.


Others include Hong Kong Archbishop John Tong Hon and Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki.

After Saturday morning’s lavish ceremony, the Roman Catholic Church will have a total of 213 cardinals – including 125 who are under the age of 80 and could therefore take part in the conclave which will meet to elect a new pope once Pope Benedict XVI dies.

Pope Benedict XVI, who will shortly celebrate his 85th birthday, is visibly slowing down.

Media reports speak of cardinals and their supporters jockeying for prominence as the Pope’s strength declines.

Seven Italians – many of them holding influential positions inside Church government – are among the new cardinals, increasing the possibility that the next Pope could once again be an Italian.

That reflects what will be a strong European presence among the 125 “cardinal electors”, despite the fact that the regions of growth for Roman Catholic congregations are Africa and Latin America rather than Europe.

The consistory is taking place against a background of disquiet inside the Vatican.

Confidential internal memos alleging corruption among top clerics and some laymen who advise the Pope have been leaked to the media.

The Vatican spokesman said – using a colorful metaphor – that “wolves were on the prowl in the frescoed palace of the popes”.

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