Monday, February 18, 2013

Apple # 625: How a New Pope is Chosen

For the second time in the life of the Daily Apple, a new Pope of the Catholic church must be chosen.

I didn't do an entry on the topic the first time this came up because a lot of people have really strong, often negative, emotions about the Catholic hierarchy, and the Daily Apple is supposed to be a place to go to get away from stressful topics.  But since the subject has come up twice, and since information is one of the best tools against pretty much all bad things, I've decided to delve into this after all.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement and opened a whole new can of fish.
(Photo from Pacific Standard)

Who Decides

  • The only people who have anything to say about who will become Pope are the Cardinals who are members of the College of Cardinals.  Your average everyday Catholic person has no say in the decision whatsoever.

Some of the College of Cardinals: the guys who decide who will be the next Pope.
(Photo from CathNewsUSA)

  • Only cardinals under the age of 80 may vote, and only up to 120 cardinals may vote.  Some sources say there are currently 118 voting-eligible cardinals, others say 117.
    • (One of the Pope's jobs is to keep an eye on the number of cardinals under 80 and appoint more in case the voting-eligible number might drop too low around the time of his death. A bit morbid, isn't it?)
  • Thus, who these cardinals are turns out to be a very big deal.  In 2012, Pope Benedict inducted six new cardinals who were from North America, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was somewhat radical, considering that the overwhelming majority of cardinals are European, and in particular, Italian.
  • According to the BBC:
Sixty-seven of the current cardinal-electors were appointed by 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.

Gathering to Vote

  • The cardinals have to gather in Rome within 15-20 days of the announcement of the Pope's death.  This time period allows everybody travel time, and it allows for the official 9 days of mourning and all the details of the funeral.
  • Although the 15-20 day period is kind of an open, gathering time, the cardinals are allowed to discuss among themselves who they might like to be the next Pope. This is reportedly a time when a lot of politicking goes on.
  • Since the current Pope is retiring and a mourning period and funeral are not necessary, the 15-20 day period may be reduced.  They'd kind of like to have a new Pope in place before the extensive ceremonies beginning the week before Easter.

John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, recently elevated to Nigerian Archbishop of Abuja, greeting his fellow cardinals.
(Photo from Sierra Express Media)

The Conclave

  • Once all 120-ish cardinals have gathered and the 15-20 days have elapsed, they literally lock themselves into a room.  The word for this part is "conclave," which means locked room. 
  • Absolute secrecy is absolutely required, and the cardinals take an oath to maintain it. There is to be no contact whatsoever with the outside world: no cell phones, no mobile devices,  no radio or television or newspapers, no letters or messages of any kind to anyone outside the room.  Regular sweeps are conducted to ensure the room has not been bugged.  Seriously.
  • If a cardinal breaks the rules of secrecy, he is automatically excommunicated from the church. Not just de-cardinaled, kicked out of the Catholic church entirely. 
  • This is because each cardinal's vote is to be guided by the Holy Spirit and no one and nothing else. 
  • The room where they lock themselves in happens to be the Sistine Chapel. 

The voting cardinals used to sleep here, too, on folding cots. Now they are allowed to sleep in hotel rooms in the Vatican City. Click here for a 360-degree view of the Sistine Chapel. You'll see it's not very big.
(Photo from Our Parish Too)

The Voting Process

  • The dean of the college of cardinals opens the proceedings, reminds everybody of the rules, and so on.  In this case, the current dean is 85 and therefore not eligible. So his second-in-command, a cardinal named Giovanni Battista Re, will do the honors.
  • But the guy who really oversees the works is the Pope's chamberlain, or Camerlengo. He's the guy in charge of handling the funeral and running things in general after the Pope's death but before a new Pope is chosen.  I'm assuming this guy will also be in charge now, but perhaps there could be a change made.
  • The voting process is referred to as "scrutiny," but it's essentially a secret ballot.
  • The first day, they vote once in the afternoon, and every day after that, they vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, until a decision is reached.  
  • After three consecutive days of no decision, they are allowed a break for a day. But then it's back to the voting again. If after 7 more votes, no decision is still reached, they're allowed another break, and so on.
  • Each cardinal is given a rectangular piece of paper with the words Eligo in summum pontificem ("I elect as supreme pontiff") printed at the top. Each cardinal writes the name of his (all cardinals are male) choice on his piece of paper.
  • One at a time, in order of seniority, the cardinals go up to the altar where there is a receptacle with a covering on it.  The cardinal holds up his folded piece of paper to show that he has voted, places his piece of paper on the cover, and uses that to slide his vote into the chalice.

About what the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals in conclave would look like.  All sorts of ceremony surrounds the casting of each of those hundreds of votes at the altar (left).
(Photo from Listverse)

Most sources say the receptacle where the cardinals put their votes is a chalice covered by a paten, but I don't see how 120 votes would fit into a cup. Vatican TV calls the receptacle pictured here an urn and says this is what will be used to hold the votes this time.
(Photo from Vatican TV, sourced from iol news)

Ah, I see.  The LA Times has a really detailed and helpful graphic depicting this entire process, including how the folded votes would fit into a chalice.

  • If a Cardinal is sick, he still has to participate.  He doesn't have to sit in the locked room with everybody else; he can stay in his bed, but he will have to vote and someone from among the voting cardinals will go to his room to collect his vote.
  • The votes are counted by the Pope's chamberlain along with 3 assistants, called scrutineers. 
  • The first assistant shakes the chalice, then transfers the votes to an urn, making sure that the number of votes corresponds to the number of voters.
  • Then the scrutineer draws out the votes one at a time. He looks at it, then scrutineer #2 looks at it, then scrutineer #3 looks at it and finally reads the name aloud. My sources disagree about whether it's one scrutineer who writes down the names on a tally sheet or if all of the cardinals do it, but anyway, the voted-for names get written down and tallied.
  • Scrutineer #3 then runs a threaded needle through the piece of paper--specifically through the Eligo--so that by the end of the process, a kind of necklace of votes is created.
  • After each vote is cast and counted, the rectangular pieces of paper are burned. They used to add wet straw, but now they add special chemicals so that the smoke will be black, meaning no decision has been reached, or no straw & white smoke, meaning a new Pope has been chosen.
    • [Edit: I looked all over for information on what they put in the smoke to make it turn white, and all anybody said was "special chemicals." But as of March 12, 2013, the NYT is saying the Vatican made a statement which details the chemical composition of the smoke:
    • For white smoke, they use potassium chlorate (helps stuff like matches & fireworks burn), milk sugar (lactose, which burns easily), and pine rosin.
    • For black smoke, they use potassium perchlorate (like potassium chlorate but a little less reactive), anthracene (from coal tar), and sulfur.  So the black smoke would be stinky as well as black.]
  • At the election of Pope Benedict, they decided they would also ring the bells of St. Peter's Basilica, just so there was no confusion about whether the smoke was white or black.

When a Pope is to be elected, an extra oven is built and attached to the regular furnace. In this oven (right), the ballots are burned.
(Photo from Smoke Machines)

Temporary scaffolding holds up the special temporary flue that will carry the black or white smoke up and out of the Sistine Chapel. Until the name of the new Pope is announced, this is the only communication allowed with the outside world.
(Photo from Smoke Machines)

White smoke issuing from the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel, announcing the election of a new Pope--in this case, it was Benedict XVI in 2005.
(Photo from The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia)

How the Winner is Determined

  • It used to be that a two-thirds majority vote had to be reached.  With 120 people voting, it can take forever and a day to get that many people (~80) to agree, so this rule has been relaxed a bit.
  • If after 30 ballots have been cast and no decision has been reached, a simple majority only is required (61, assuming 120 people are voting).
In the past, it has often been the case that a particular candidate has had solid majority support but cannot garner the required two-thirds majority, e.g., because he is too conservative to satisfy the more moderate Cardinals. Therefore a compromise candidate is chosen, either an old Pope who will die soon and not do much until the next conclave (which is what was intended with John XXIII!), or someone not so hard-line wins support. The difference now will be that if, in the early ballots, one candidate has strong majority support, there is less incentive for that majority to compromise with the cardinals who are against their candidate and they simply need to sit out 30 ballots to elect their man. This may well see much more "hard-line" Popes being elected. 
  • I don't know how reliable that assessment is.  Mainly it reveals how much politicking can be involved in this process.

Who May Become Pope

  • Theoretically, the cardinals may choose anyone. Well, as long as he's male and baptized in the Catholic church.
  • But he does not have to be a cardinal or a bishop or even a priest.  He can be a layman, and in fact, laymen have in the past been chosen to be Pope.  But since about the 15th century, it is Cardinals who have been chosen.
  • Whoever is chosen is informed of the choice, and he may decline.
  • If he accepts, he is quickly ordained a priest, if necessary.  If he is not a bishop, he is quickly ordained to be one of those, too.  However, from the moment he accepts, he is the Pope.
  • The cardinals pledge their support to him, and they ask him what name he chooses.  Once he says what he wants his Pope-Name to be, the news is then announced to the public: Habemus Papam! (We have a Pope!)

John Paul II, newly announced as Pope in 1978, saying hello.
(AP Photo from Love&Life Centre)

American, Papal Conclave: How Popes are Chosen
Paul McLachlan,, Electing a Pope
John Thavis, Catholic News Service, Election of new pope follows detailed procedure
Quora, Forbes, How Is a New Pope Elected? February 12, 2013
BBCNews, Conclave: How cardinals elect a Pope, February 12, 2013
Wise Geek, How is a New Pope Chosen?
ABC News, How a New Pope Will Be Chosen to Replace Pope Benedict XVI, February 11, 2013
Philip Pullella, Irish Examiner, New pope may be chosen by mid-March, February 18, 2013 

Henry Fountain, Vatican Reveals Recipes for Conclave Smoke, New York Times, March 12, 2013

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