Saturday, April 02, 2005

Electing a Pope

When the Pope dies, the Cardinal Camerlengo must verify the death, traditionally by calling the Pope three times by his name without response. He must then authorize a death certificate and make the event public by notifying the Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome.

The Camerlengo then seals the Pope's private apartments. He would also arrange for the "ring of the fisherman" and the papal seal to be broken. He then makes preparations for the Papal funeral rites, the novemdieles, the nine days of mourning.

During the interregnum, it is the Camerlengo who is responsible for the government of the Church. He must arrange the funeral and burial of the Pope. He directs the election of a new pope, assisted by three Cardinals, elected by the College of Cardinals, with three new Cardinals elected every three days.

All heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia are suspended from exercising their authority during the interregnum (and are expected to resign their posts immediately on the election of the new Pope). The only exceptions to this are the Cardinal Camerlengo, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, the Major Penitentiary, the Cardinal Archpriest of St Peter's Basilica and the Vicar-General for Vatican City. These continue in their posts during the interregnum.

After 15-20 days of "General Congregations", sermons at their Titular Churches and mourning for the Pope after his funeral, the Cardinal Electors enter the Conclave to choose which of them will emerge as Holy Roman Pontiff.

The Cardinals must take an oath when they first enter the Conclave that they will follow the rules set down by the Pope and that they will maintain absolute secrecy about the voting and deliberations. The penalty for disclosing anything about the conclave that must be kept secret is automatic excommunication.

The Cardinals all take seats around the wall of the Sistine Chapel and take a ballot paper on which is written "Eligo in suumum pontificem" -- "I elect as supreme Pontiff...".

They then write a name on it, fold it, and then proceed one by one to approach the altar, where a chalice stands with a paten on it. They hold up their ballot high to show that they have voted, then place it on the paten, and then slides it into the chalice. The votes are then counted by the Cardinal Camerlengo and his three assistants.

Each assistant reads the name, reads the name aloud, writes it down on a tally sheet and then passes it to the next assistant. The third assistance runs a needle and thread through the centre of each ballot to join them all together. The ballots are then burned, as well as all notes made. If a new Pope has been elected, the papers are burned with to give white smoke. Otherwise, they give off black smoke, so that the waiting crowds, and the world, know whether their new Holy Father will soon emerge from the Sistine Chapel.

To be elected Pope, one Cardinal must receive more than two-thirds of the votes. Except that if 30 elections have taken place without any one Cardinal being elected Pope, then the Cardinals may then elect by simple majority. This is an important change and may well be the most important change made. 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, eg, 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, and given the conservative trend of most appointments to the College by Pope John Paul II, it is almost certainly going to be a man cut from the same cloth.

The cardinals vote on the afternoon of the first day, then twice each morning and once each afternoon. If they have not elected someone within the first nine votes, then they may devote up to a day to prayer and discussion before resuming. They may do the same every seven unsuccessful votes after that.

The Cardinals are not permitted any contact with the outside world: no mobile phones, no newspapers or television, no messages or letters or signals to observers. There will be regular sweeps of all relevant areas for listening devices. The Cardinals will for the first time be visible, at least twice daily, to the observing world, when they move the 350 metres from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Sistine Chapel and back again. No doubt, Vatican "experts" will be hired to expound at length on what the countenance of certain key Cardinals indicates as they are filmed moving to and from the Chapel!

Once a Cardinal has received the required number of votes, the Dean of the College of Cardinals asks him if he accepts election and by what name he wishes to be called as Pope. On giving assent, the Cardinal immediately becomes Pontifex Maximus, the Holy Roman Pontiff.

The Cardinals then pledge their obedience to His Holiness in turn. The Pope vests in his Pontifical clericals (white soutane and skull cap) -- the Italian family business in Rome that makes all the Papal vestments has several different sizes prepared in readiness for His Holiness, no matter what his shape or size!

The Dean of the College of Cardinals then steps onto the main balcony of the Vatican and declares to the World: "Habemus Papam!" "We have a Pope!" His Holiness then appears on the Balcony and delivers his Apostolic Blessing to the waiting World.

Within a short time of his election, before the Cardinals return home, a formal ceremony of inauguration takes place at which the woollen pallium is bestowed upon him. One of the few things Pope John Paul I managed to do in his short papacy was to abolish the traditional Papal Coronation, which Pope John Paul II did not resurrect. Traditionally, the Pope would be carried around St Peter's Square on the Sedia Gestatoria (the Papal Throne) and have the Papal Tiara placed on his head. These last two popes have done away with the monarchic symbolism of the papacy (including the use of the Royal "we") in favour of a heightened concentration of their role as "Servus Servorum Dei" -- Servant of the servants of God. More at catholic-pages.com

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