Papal conclave

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious movements, traditions and organizations

A papal conclave is the process by which the Roman Catholic Church elects the Bishop of Rome who, as he is considered the "Successor of Saint Peter," is also the Pope, the head of the Church.

A history of political interference in these elections and consequently long vacancies between popes, and most immediately the interregnum of 1268-1271, prompted the Second Council of Lyons to decree in 1274 that the electors should be locked in seclusion cum clave (Latin for "with a key"), and not permitted to leave until a new Bishop of Rome is elected. Conclaves are now held in the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.

In the early centuries of Christianity the bishop of Rome (like other bishops) was chosen by the consensus of the clergy and people of Rome. The body of electors was more precisely defined until, in 1059, the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors. Since then other details of the process have developed. In 1970 Pope Paul VI limited the electors to cardinals under 80 years of age. The Pope may change the procedures for electing his successor by issuing an apostolic constitution; the current procedures were established by Pope John Paul II in his constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.

Historical development

The procedures relating to the election of the Pope have undergone almost two millennia of development. Procedures similar to the present system were introduced in 1274 with the Second Council of Lyons after the three-year interregnum 1268-1271.


The earliest bishops appear to have been chosen for a Christian community by the apostles and their immediate succesors who founded the Church in that area. As these communities became more fully established, bishops were chosen by the clergy and laity of the community with the assistance of the bishops of neighbouring dioceses. St. Cyprian says that Pope Cornelius was chosen Bishop of Rome "by the decree of God and of His Church, by the testimony of nearly all the clergy, by the college of aged bishops [sacerdotum], and of good men." As was true for bishops of other dioceses (see the story of St. Ambrose as late as 374)", the clergy of the Roman diocese was the electoral body for the bishop of Rome, but they did not cast votes, instead selecting the bishop by general consensus or by acclamation. The candidate would then be submitted to the people for their general approval or disapproval. This lack of lucidity in the election procedures gave rise to rival Popes or antipopes, and to avoid factions the Roman Emperor sometimes confirmed the selection.

The Lateran Synod held in 769 officially abolished the theoretical suffrage held by the Roman people, though in 862, a Synod of Rome restored it to Roman noblemen. A major change was introduced in 1059, when Nicholas II decreed that the cardinals were to elect a candidate, who would take office after receiving the assent of the clergy and laity. The most senior cardinals, the Cardinal Bishops, were to meet first and discuss the candidates before summoning the Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons for the actual vote. The Second Council of the Lateran in 1139 removed the requirement that the assent of the lower clergy and the laity be obtained.

Through much of the Middle Ages and Renaissance the cardinals numbered below 30 and as few as seven members under Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261). Difficult travel reduced the number arriving at the conclave. With a small electorate an individual vote was significant, and was not easily shaken from familar or political lines. Conclaves could last months and even years. The long interregnum following the death of Clement IV in 1268 caused Gregory X and the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 to decree that the electors should be locked in seclusion, and their food rationed should they fail to choose a candidate in three to eight days. The strict rules of the conclave were disliked by the cardinals and suspended by John XXI (1276-1277). Lengthy elections continued to be the norm until 1294 when a pious Benedictine hermit admonished the cardinals. The cardinals elected this same monk as Pope Celestine V, whose main acts as Pope were to reinstate the strict conclave, and to resign the papacy. He was declared a saint in 1313.

In 1378, after the death of the French-born Gregory XI, the Romans rioted to ensure the election of an Italian; the cardinals complied by choosing Urban VI, who was not even a cardinal. Later, in the same year, French and other cardinals moved to Fondi and elected another rival Pope. The Council of Pisa met in 1409 to resolve the conflict, but only managed to elect a third claimant. The conflict, known as the Western Schism, was only resolved by the Council of Constance which met between 1414 and 1418. The Roman Gregory XII abdicated in 1415, and the council deposed the other two claimants and elected Pope Martin V, ending the schism. After that election it was declared that no council would have authority over the Pope, and that a papal election could not be undone.

In 1587, Sixtus V fixed the number of cardinals to 70: six Cardinal Bishops, 50 Cardinal Priests, and 14 Cardinal Deacons. Beginning with John XXIII's attempts to broaden the backgrounds of the cardinals, that number has increased. In 1970, Paul VI decreed that cardinals over the age of eighty were ineligible to vote in the conclave, and also increased the number of active cardinal electors to 120. Though this remains the theoretical limit, John Paul II exceeded this for short periods of time with knowledge of impending retirements. John Paul II also specified that cardinals that were under eighty on the day the Holy See become vacant but would turn eighty before the conclave start still have a vote. Of the 182 cardinals at that time, 116 were under eighty years of age.

Choice of the electors

Originally, lay status did not bar election to the Bishop of Rome: bishops of dioceses were sometimes elected even while still catechumens (as St. Amrbose, supra). In 769, in the wake of the violent dispute over the election of antipope Constantine II, Pope Stephen III held a synod which ruled that the entire clergy of Rome had a right to vote for the bishop of Rome, but that only a "cardinal priest" or "cardinal deacon" could be elected (this is the first use of the term "cardinal" and the "cardinal bishops" were specifically excluded). By 824, these rules were reversed, a lay participation in the choice by acclamation of a new pope again became the rule until 1059 (the pope was also subjected to oaths of loyalty to the Holy Roman Emperor, whose task it was of provide security and public peace in Rome).

Nicholas II, again calling a synod, changed the method of papal election yet again. He restricted the vote to the cardinal bishops, whose choice would be ratified by the cardinal priests and cardinal deacons. Preference was to be given to the clergy of Rome in the choice, but the cardinal bishops were also free to choose a candidate from elsewhere. Imperial confirmation was dropped.

In 1179, the Third Council of the Lateran reversed earlier requirements, once more allowing anyone to be elected by the cardinals. (This does not mean a layman elected would remain an unordained layman while serving as pope; see acceptance and proclamation below.) Urban VI in 1378 was the last Pope elected from outside the cardinals. In more recent history it is reported that Archbishop Giovanni Montini of Milan received several votes in the conclave of 1958 despite not being a cardinal. The new pope made him a cardinal almost immediately, and he was later elected pope in 1963.

Though the Pope's core title is "Bishop of Rome," he need not be of Italian background. Prior to Adrian VI, a native of the Netherlands who was elected in 1522, popes came from a wide variety of geographic areas and linguistic groups. From Adrian VI to John Paul II, who was Polish, however, all of the popes were from areas that are now part of Italy - it must be remembered, however, that this bears little of the modern connotation of "Italian," as Italy was broken up into various independent republics and kingdoms, parts of the area of modern Italy were controlled by other powers like France or the Holy Roman Empire, and the Papal States in the middle of the Italian boot was its own country until the unification of modern Italy in the mid-1800s. In many cases, for instance, this distinction of Italian vs. non-Italian was almost meaningless compared to the distinction between Roman vs. non-Roman, between Florentine vs. Venetian, or between various poltical and familial alliances. The present incumbent, Benedict XVI, is German.

Thus, any baptised male Catholic (except a heretic or schismatic) can be elected by the College of Cardinals. As the Catholic Church holds that women cannot be ordained validly in the sacrament of Holy Orders, and as the pope is, by definition, the bishop of Rome, women have never been eligible for the papacy; claims that there was a female Pope, including the legendary Pope Joan, are fictitious.

A simple majority sufficed for an election until 1179, when the Third Lateran Council increased the required majority to two-thirds. Cardinals were not allowed to vote for themselves; an elaborate procedure was adopted to ensure secrecy while at the same time preventing cardinals from voting for themselves. In 1945, Pius XII dispensed with the procedure. He also increased the requisite majority to two-thirds plus one. In 1996, John Paul II restored the two-thirds majority requirement, but not the prohibition on cardinals voting for themselves. John Paul's constitution allows election by absolute majority if deadlock still prevails seven ballots after the address by the senior Cardinal Bishop.

Electors formerly made choices by three methods: by acclamation, by compromise and by scrutiny. When voting by acclamation, the cardinals would unanimously declare the new Pope quasi afflati Spiritu Sancto (as if inspired by the Holy Spirit). When voting by compromise, the deadlocked College of Cardinals would select a committee of cardinals to conduct an election. When voting by scrutiny, the electors cast secret ballots. The last election by compromise was that of John XXII (1316), and the last election by acclamation was that of Gregory XV (1621). New rules introduced by John Paul II have formally abolished these long-unused systems; now, election is always by ballot.

Secular influence

For the greater part of its history, the Church has been influenced in the choice of its leaders by powerful monarchs and governments. For example, the Roman Emperors once held considerable sway in the elections of Popes. In 418, Honorius settled a controverted election, upholding Boniface I over the challenger Eulalius. He ordered that in future cases, controverted elections would be settled by fresh elections; the method was never applied before its lapse. After the demise of the Western Roman Empire, clout passed to the Ostrogothic Kings of Italy. In 532, John II formally recognised the right of the Ostrogothic monarchs to ratify elections. By the end of the 530s, the Ostrogothic monarchy was overthrown, and power passed to the Byzantine Emperors (who are known as the Eastern Roman Emperors). A procedure was adopted whereby officials were required to notify the Exarch of Ravenna (who would relay the information to the Byzantine Emperor) upon the death of a Pope before proceeding to the election. Once the electors arrived at a choice, they were required to send a delegation to Constantinople requesting the Emperor's consent, which was necessary before the individual elected could take office. Lengthy delays were caused by the sojourns to and from Constantinople; when Benedict II complained about them, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV acquiesced, ending the confirmation of elections by the Emperors. Thereafter, the Emperor was only required to be notified; the requirement was dispensed with by Pope Zachary and by his successors.

In the 9th century, a new empire—the Holy Roman Empire, which was German, not Italian—came to exert control over the elections of Popes. While the first two Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne and Louis, did not interfere with the Church, Lothar claimed that an election could not be conducted except in the presence of imperial ambassadors. In 898, riots forced John IX to recognise the superintendence of the Holy Roman Emperor; the local secular rulers in Rome also continued to exert a great influence, especially during the tenth century period known as the Pornocracy.

In 1059, the same papal bull that restricted suffrage to the cardinals also recognised the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, at the time Henry IV, but only as a "concession" made by the Pope, thus establishing that the Holy Roman Emperor had no authority to intervene in elections except where permitted to do so by papal agreements. Gregory VII was the last to submit to the interference of the Holy Roman Emperors; the breach between him and the Holy Roman Empire caused by the Investiture Controversy led to the abolition of the Emperor's role. In 1119, the Holy Roman Empire acceded to the Concordat of Worms, accepting the papal decision.

From the sixteenth century, certain Catholic nations were allowed to exercise the so-called "right of exclusion" or " veto". By an informal convention, each nation was allowed to veto not more than one papal candidate; any decision made by a nation was conveyed by one of its cardinals. The power of exclusion was, by the same custom, only exercisable by any nation once. Therefore, the nation's cardinals did not announce the use of the power until the very last moment when the candidate in question seemed likely to get elected. No vetoes could be employed after an election. After the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806, its place was taken by Austria (which was a part of the Empire and whose ruler was also Holy Roman Emperor). Austria became the last nation to exercise the power in 1903, when Cardinal Puzyna de Kosielsko informed the College of Cardinals that Austria opposed the election of Mariano Cardinal Rampolla (who had received 29 out of 60 votes in one ballot). Consequently, the College chose Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto with 55 votes. Cardinal Sarto, who chose the name Pius X, abolished the right of the veto. He declared that any cardinal who communicated his government's veto would suffer excommunication, or expulsion from Church communal life.


In earlier years, papal elections sometimes suffered prolonged deadlocks. To resolve them, authorities often resorted to the forced seclusion of the cardinal electors. The method was adopted, for example, in 1216 by the city of Perugia and in 1241 by the city of Rome. After the death of Clement IV in 1268, the city of Viterbo was also forced to resort to the seclusion of cardinals in the episcopal palace. When the cardinals still failed to elect a Pope, the city refused to send in any materials except bread and water. When even this failed to produce a Pope, the townpeople removed the roof over the cardinals' heads. As a result, the cardinals soon elected Gregory X, ending an interregnum of almost three years.

To reduce further delays, Gregory X introduced stringent rules relating to the election procedures. Cardinals were to be secluded in a closed area; they were not even accorded separate rooms. No cardinal was allowed to be attended by more than one servant unless ill. Food was to be supplied through a window; after three days of the meeting, the cardinals were to receive only one dish a day; after five days, they were to receive just bread and water. During the conclave, no cardinal was to receive any ecclesiastical revenue.

Gregory X's strict regulations were later abrogated in 1276 by Adrian V, but after he was elected in 1294 following a two-year vacancy, Celestine V restored them. In 1562, Pius IV issued a papal bull that introduced regulations relating to the secrecy of the ballots and other procedural matters. Gregory XV issued two bulls that covered the most minute of details relating to the election; the first, issued in 1621, concerned electoral processes, while the other bull, issued in 1622, fixed the ceremonies to be observed. In 1904, Pius X issued a constitution consolidating almost all of the previous ones, making some revamps. Several reforms were instituted by John Paul II in 1996.

The location of the conclaves was not fixed until the fourteenth century. Since the Western Schism, however, elections have always been held in Rome (except in 1800, when Neapolitan troops occupying Rome forced the election to be held in Venice), and normally in the Vatican City (which has, since the Lateran treaties of 1929, been recognised as an independent state). Within Rome and the Vatican City, different locations have been used for the election. Since 1846, when the Quirinal Palace was used, the Sistine Chapel has always served as the location of the election. Popes have often written "election constitutions" fine-tuning the rules for the election of their successors: Pope Pius XII's Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis of 1945 governed the conclave of 1958, Pope John XXIII's Summi Pontificis Electio of 1962 that of 1963, Pope Paul VI's Romano Pontifici Eligendo of 1975 those of 1978, and John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis of 1996 that of 2005.

Modern practice

In 1996, John Paul II promulgated a new Apostolic Constitution, called Universi Dominici Gregis (Shepherd of the Lord's Whole Flock), which, unless superseded by later regulations, now governs the election of the Pope's successor. The procedures outlined, however, in many cases date to much earlier times. Universi Dominici Gregis is the sole constitution governing the election; it abrogates all constitutions previously issued by Popes. Under Universi Dominici Gregis, the cardinals are to be lodged in a purpose-built edifice, the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ, but are to continue to vote in the Sistine Chapel.

Several duties are performed by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, who is always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Dean is not entitled to participate in the conclave due to age, his place is taken by the Sub-Dean, who is also always a Cardinal Bishop. If the Sub-Dean also cannot participate, the senior Cardinal Bishop participating performs the functions.

Since the College of Cardinals is a small body, some have suggested that the electorate should be expanded. Proposed reforms include a plan to replace the College of Cardinals as the electoral body with the Synod of Bishops, which includes many more members. Under present procedure, however, the Synod may only meet while called by the Pope. Universi Dominici Gregis explicitly provides that even if a Synod or ecumenical council is in session at the time of a Pope's death, it may not perform the election. Upon the Pope's death, either body's proceedings are suspended, to be resumed only upon the order of the new Pope.

It is considered poor form to campaign for the position of Pope. However, there is inevitably always much speculation about which Cardinals have serious prospects of being elected. Speculation tends to mount when a Pope is ill or aged and shortlists of potential candidates appear in the media. A Cardinal who is considered to be a prospect for the papacy is referred to informally as being papabile (plural noun: papabili), the term being coined by Vatican watchers in the mid-twentieth century.[

Death of the Pope

The Cardinal Camerlengo proclaims a papal death.
The Cardinal Camerlengo proclaims a papal death.

The death of the Pope is verified by the Cardinal Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, who traditionally performed the task by gently striking the Pope's head with a small silver hammer and calling out his Christian (not papal) name three times. During the twentieth century the use of the hammer in this ritual has been abandoned; under Universi Dominici Gregis, the Camerlengo must merely declare the Pope's death by calling him three times by his Christian name in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and of the Cleric Prelates, Secretary and Chancellor of the Apostolic Camera. The Cardinal Camerlengo takes possession of the Fisherman's Ring worn by the Pope; the Ring, along with the papal seal, is later destroyed before the College of Cardinals. The tradition originated to avoid forgery of documents, but today merely is a symbol of the end of the pope's reign.

During the sede vacante, as the papal vacancy is known, certain limited powers pass to the College of Cardinals, which is convoked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals. All cardinals are obliged to attend the General Congregation of Cardinals, except those whose health does not permit, or who are over eighty (but those cardinals may choose to attend if they please). The Particular Congregation, which deals with the day-to-day matters of the Church, includes the Cardinal Camerlengo and the three Cardinal Assistants—one Cardinal Bishop, one Cardinal Priest and one Cardinal Deacon—chosen by lot. Every three days, new Cardinal Assistants are chosen by lot. The Cardinal Camerlengo and Cardinal Assistants are responsible, among other things, for maintaining the election's secrecy.

The Congregations must make certain arrangements in respect of the Pope's burial, which by tradition takes place from four to six days of the Pope's death, leaving time for pilgrims to see the dead pontiff, and is to be followed by a nine-day period of mourning (this is known as the novemdiales, Latin for "nine days"). The Congregations also fix the date and time of the commencement of the conclave. The conclave normally takes place fifteen days after the death of the Pope, but the Congregations may extend the period to a maximum of twenty days in order to permit other cardinals to arrive in the Vatican City.

A vacancy in the papal office may also result from a papal abdication, though no pope has abdicated since Gregory XII in 1415.

Beginning of the election

The cardinals hear two sermons before the election: one before actually entering the conclave, and one once they are settled in the Sistine Chapel. In both cases, the sermons are meant to lay out the current state of the Church, and to suggest the qualities necessary for a pope to possess in that specific time. The first preacher in the 2005 conclave was Fr. Rainero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household and a member of the Capuchin Franciscan order, who spoke at one of the meetings of the cardinals held before the actual day when the conclave began. Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík, a former professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and a retired (thus, non-voting) member of the College of Cardinals, spoke just before the doors were finally closed for the conclave.

On the morning of the day designated by the Congregations of Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble in St Peter's Basilica to celebrate the Eucharist. Then, they gather in the afternoon in the Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican, proceeding to the Sistine Chapel while singing the Veni Creator Spiritus. The Cardinals then take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitutions; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting. The Cardinal Dean reads the oath aloud in full; in order of precedence, the other cardinal electors merely state, while touching the Gospels, that they "do so promise, pledge and swear."

After all the cardinals present have taken the oath, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations orders all individuals other than the cardinals and conclave participants to leave the Chapel -- traditionally, he stands at the door of the Sistine Chapel and calls out or states "Extra omnes," Latin for, roughly, "Everybody else, out!" He then closes the door.

The Master himself may remain, as may one ecclesiastic designated by the Congregations prior to the commencement of the election. The ecclesiastic makes a speech concerning the problems facing the Church and on the qualities the new Pope needs to have. After the speech concludes, the ecclesiastic leaves. Following the recitation of prayers, the Cardinal Dean asks if any doubts relating to procedure remain. After the clarification of the doubts, the election may commence. Cardinals who arrive after the conclave has begun are admitted nevertheless. An ill cardinal may leave the conclave and later be readmitted; a cardinal who leaves for any reason other than illness may not return to the conclave.

Each cardinal elector may be accompanied by two attendants or conclavists (three if the cardinal elector is ill). The Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, two Masters of Ceremonies, two officers of the Papal Sacristy and an ecclesiastic assisting the Dean of the College of Cardinals are also admitted to the conclave. Priests are available to hear confessions in different languages; two doctors are also admitted. Finally, a strictly limited number of servant staff are permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals. Secrecy is maintained during the conclave; the cardinals as well as the conclavists and staff are not permitted to disclose any information relating to the election. Cardinal electors may not correspond or converse with anyone outside the conclave, by post, radio, telephone or otherwise and eavesdropping is an offense punishable by excommunication latae sententiae - in fact, before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, the Sistine Chapel was "swept" using the latest electronic devices to detect any hidden " bugs" or surveillance devices (there were no reports that any were found, but in previous conclaves there were discovered press reporters who had disguised themselves as conclave servants). Universi Dominici Gregis specifically prohibits media such as newspapers, the radio, and television.


Cardinals formerly used these intricate ballot papers, one of which is shown folded above. Currently, the ballots are simple cards, folded once (like a note card), with the words "I elect as Supreme Pontiff ....." printed on them.
Cardinals formerly used these intricate ballot papers, one of which is shown folded above. Currently, the ballots are simple cards, folded once (like a note card), with the words "I elect as Supreme Pontiff ....." printed on them.

On the afternoon of the first day, one ballot may be held. If a ballot take place on the afternoon of the first day and no-one is elected, or no ballot had taken place, four ballots are held on each successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. If no result is obtained after three vote days of balloting, the process is suspended for a maximum of one day for prayer and an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon. After seven further ballots, the process may again be similarly suspended, with the address now being delivered by the senior Cardinal Priest. If, after another seven ballots, no result is achieved, voting is suspended once more, the address being delivered by the senior Cardinal Bishop. After a further seven ballots, the cardinal electors may decide by an absolute majority, to advise and change the election rules. This includes the possibility of eliminating all candidates except the two who have received the greatest number of votes in the previous ballot and reducing the majority require for an election. However, there can be no waiving of the requirement that a valid election takes place only by an absolute majority of the votes.

The process of voting comprises three phases: the "pre-scrutiny," the "scrutiny," and the "post-scrutiny." During the pre-scrutiny, the Masters of the Ceremonies prepare ballot papers bearing the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem ("I elect as Supreme Pontiff") and provide at least two to each cardinal elector. As the cardinals begin to write down their votes, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and the Masters of Ceremonies exit; the junior Cardinal Deacon then closes the door. The junior Cardinal Deacon then draws by lot nine names; the first three become Scrutineers, the second three Infirmarii and the last three Revisers. New Scrutineers, Infirmarii and Revisers are not selected again after the first ballot.

Then the scrutiny phase of the election commences. The cardinal electors proceed, in order of precedence, to take their completed ballots (which bear only the name of the individual voted for) to the altar, where the Scrutineers stand. Before casting the ballot, each cardinal elector takes a Latin oath, which translates to: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected." If any cardinal elector is in the Chapel, but cannot proceed to the altar due to infirmity, the last Scrutineer may go to him and take his ballot after the oath is recited. If any cardinal elector is by reason of infirmity confined to his room, the Infirmarii go to their rooms with ballot papers and a box. Any such sick cardinals take the oath and then complete the ballot papers. When the Infirmarii return to the Chapel, the ballots are counted to ensure that their number matches with the number of ill cardinals; thereafter, they are deposited in the appropriate receptacle. This oath is taken by all cardinals only at the first vote of each two-vote voting session. One two-vote voting session is held in the morning and another in the afternoon. The oath is therefore anonymous, since the name of the elector is no longer signed on the ballot with that of the candidate. (Previously, the ballot was also signed by the elector and then folded over to cover the signature of the elector and then sealed to result in a semi-secret ballot. See example above.) This was the procedure prior to 1945. Above is a copy of the old three section semi-secret ballot, which was last used in the conclave of 1939. There was no oath taken when actually casting ballots, prior to 1621. Completely secret ballots were sometimes used prior to 1621, though in some conclaves prior to 1621, the cardinals verbally voted and sometimes stood in groups to faciliate counting the votes cast.

Prior to 1621, the only oath taken was that of obedience to the rules of the conclave in force at that time, when the cardinals entered the conclave and the doors were locked. Gregory XV added the additional oath taken at the onset of each morning voting session and each afternoon voting session, to prevent cardinals wasting time in casting "courtesy votes" and instead narrowing the number of realistic candidates for the papal throne to perhaps only two or three. Speed in electing a pope was important, and that meant using an oath so as to get the cardinals down to the serious business of electing a new pope and narrowing the number of potentially electable candidates. The reforms of Gregory XV in 1621 and 1622 created the detailed step-by-step procedure in choosing a pope, that is essentially the same as that which was used in 2005 to elect Benedict XVI. The elimination of the rule that required the electors to sign their ballots resulted in that detailed voting procedure making use of anonymous oaths. This was perhaps the most significant change in the modern era detailed voting procedure, since that detailed voting procedure was first created in 1621. It was Pius XII who made this change in 1945.

Once all votes have been cast, the first Scrutineer chosen shakes the container, and the last Scrutineer removes and counts the ballots. If the number of ballots does not correspond to the number of cardinal electors present, the ballots are burnt, unread, and the vote is repeated. If, however, no irregularities are observed, the ballots may be opened and the votes counted. Each ballot is unfolded by the first Scrutineer; all three Scrutineers separately write down the name indicated on the ballot. The last of the Scrutineers reads the name aloud.

Once all of the ballots have been opened, the final post-scrutiny phase begins. The Scrutineers add up all of the votes, and the Revisers check the ballots and the names on the Scrutineers' lists to ensure that no error was made. The ballots are then all burnt by the Scrutineers with the assistance of the Secretary of the College and the Masters of Ceremonies. If the first election held in any given morning or afternoon does not result in an election, the cardinals proceed to the next vote immediately; the papers from both ballots are burnt together at the end of the second vote. The colour of the smoke signals the results to the people assembled in St Peter's Square. Dark smoke signals that the ballot did not result in an election, while white smoke signals that a new Pope was chosen. Originally, damp straw was added to the fire to create dark smoke; since 1958 chemicals have been used, and since 2005 bells ring after a successful election in case the white smoke is not unambiguously white.

In 2004 security expert Bruce Schneier published a theoretical paper how election fraud in the papal election could be done.

Acceptance and proclamation

Once the election concludes, the junior Cardinal Deacon summons the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations into the hall. The Cardinal Dean then asks the Pope-elect if he assents to the election ("Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?"). If he does, and is already a bishop, he immediately takes office. If he is not a bishop, however, he must be first ordained as one before he can assume office. If a priest is elected, the Cardinal Dean ordains him bishop; if a layman is elected, then the Cardinal Dean first ordains him deacon, then priest, and only then bishop. Only after becoming a bishop does the Pope-elect take office.

Since 533, the new Pope has also decided on the name by which he is to be called at this time. Pope John II was the first to adopt a new papal name; he felt that his original name, Mercurius, was inappropriate, as it was also the name of a Roman god. In most cases, even if such considerations are absent, Popes tend to choose new papal names; the last Pope to reign under his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II (1555). After the papal name is chosen, the officials are readmitted to the conclave, and the Master of Pontifical Liturgical writes a document recording the acceptance and the new name of the Pope.

Later, the new Pope goes to the "Room of Tears," a small red room next to the Sistine Chapel. The origin of the name is uncertain, but seems to imply the commixture of joy and sorrow felt by the newly chosen holder of the monumental office. The Pope dresses by himself, choosing a set of pontifical choir robes (white cassock, rochet and mozzetta) among the three sizes: small, medium and large. Then, he vests in a gold corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. He wears a white zuchetto on his head.

Next, the senior Cardinal Deacon (the Cardinal Protodeacon) appears at the main balcony of the basilica's façade to proclaim the new pope with the Latin phrase:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:
Habemus Papam!
Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum [forename],
Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem [surname],
qui sibi nomen imposuit [papal name].

("I announce to you a great joy:
We have a Pope!
The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord,
Lord [forename],
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [surname],
who takes to himself the name [papal name].")

It has happened in the past that the Cardinal Protodeacon has himself been the person elected Pope. In such an event the announcement is made by the next senior Deacon, who has thus succeeded as Protodeacon, and not by the new Pope himself. During the election of Pope Pius X in 1903 Protodeacon Prospero Cardinal Caterini was physically incapable of completing the announcement, so another made it for him.

The new Pope then gives his first apostolic blessing, Urbi et Orbi ("to the City [Rome] and to the World"). Formerly, the Pope would be crowned by the triregnum or Triple Tiara at the Papal Coronation. John Paul I did not want the elaborate coronation ceremony for himself, choosing instead to be consecrated in a Papal Inauguration ceremony.

Historical voting patterns

Moreover the newly elected pope often contrasts dramatically with his predecessor, a tendency expressed by the Italian saying "After a fat pope a lean pope". Past cardinals have often voted for someone radically different to the pope who appointed them. The controversial one-time populist turned conservative, long-lived Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) was succeeded by the aristocratic diplomatic Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903). He in turn was succeeded by the lower-class, bluntly outspoken Pope Pius X (1903–1914). Pius's rugged ultraconservatism contrasted with the low-key moderatism of Giacomo Cardinal della Chiesa, Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922), which again contrasted with the former librarian mountain-climber Achille Cardinal Ratti, Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), who led Roman Catholicism with an authoritarianism more akin to Pope Pius X, who also shared his temper. Pius XI was replaced in 1939 by the aristocratic ultra-insider Curialist, Pius XI's Secretary of State Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, Pope Pius XII (1939–1958). Pius XII was seen as one of the great thinkers in the papacy in the 20th century. He was also the ultimate insider; his family were descended from the Roman aristocracy, with his brother working as a lawyer for the Holy See. Pius was then replaced by the lower-class, elderly, popular, informal Pope John XXIII (1958–1963). The contrast between diffident, intellectual and distant Pius XII and the humble, in his own words "ordinary" Good Pope John was dramatic, with none more surprised at the election than Pope John himself, who had his own return rail ticket in his pocket when he was elected.

John proved to be a radical break with the two previous popes, and indeed with most of the popes of the 20th century. After a short but dramatic pontificate during which he convoked the Second Vatican Council which resulted in wide ranging changes in the church, the surprise John was replaced by the widely expected choice Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who many believed would have been elected in 1958, had he been a cardinal then. Montini, Pope Paul VI (1963–1978) like Pius XII, was a curialist. (He had worked with Pacelli in the 1930s and 1940s in the curia.) Yet Pope Paul was succeeded (albeit for a short time) by the non-Curialist Pope John Paul I (1978), who it was said was chosen not as an experienced insider nor administrator, but as a "simple, holy man". He in turn was succeeded by the non-Italian Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), who was an intellectual heavyweight unprecedented since Pope Pius XII. He was then replaced by the German Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and at the same time, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI after more than a quarter of a century in 2005. He is the second non-Italian and the first German Pontiff to be elected since Pope Adrian VI (an ethnic German born in future Dutch territory of the Holy Roman Empire, so he was German in terms of his ethnicity and citizenship).

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