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Thomas J. ReeseJanuary 24, 2013

Updated March 13, 2013—come back for further updates.

Before the pope dies or resigns

During the Interregnum

The Conclave

Other Questions

Before the pope dies or resigns

When did Pope Benedict create new cardinals?

On Nov. 24, 2012, the pope created six new cardinals, all of whom are under 80 years of age and therefore eligible to vote in a papal conclave. Earlier in the year on February 18, he created 18 cardinals under the age of 80.

On March 24, 2006, Benedict created 15 new cardinals, 12 of whom were under 80 years of age. On Nov. 24, 2007, Benedict created 23 new cardinals, 18 of whom were under 80 years of age. On November 20, 2010, he created 24 new cardinals, 20 of whom were under 80. On February 18, 2012, he created 22 new cardinals, 18 of whom were under 80.

Up until 2012, unlike his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict followed church rules and kept the total number of cardinals under 80 years of age at 120, the number established by Paul VI. Under John Paul the number went up to 135 in 2001 and 2003.

As of Feb. 11, 2013, 67 of the 118 cardinal electors were appointed by Benedict. The rest were appointed by John Paul II. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar turned 80 on Feb. 26, and therefore, he could not attend the conclave.

What happens if the pope dies before a consistory?

If a pope dies after the names of new cardinals are announced but before the consistory, the men nominated as cardinals are not cardinals and they do not get to go to the conclave and vote for the next pope. For example, Hans Urs Von Balthasar was never a cardinal although he was announced in 1989 but died before the consistory.

The English translation of Canon 351, #2, of the 1983 Code of Canon Law can be misleading on this because of the use of words like “announcement” and “publication.” The translation by the CLSA (Canon Law Society of America) reads:

Cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff which is made public in the presence of the College of Cardinals. From the moment of announcement they are bound by the duties and possess the rights defined by law.

The British translation reads:

Cardinals are created by decree of the Roman Pontiff, which in fact is published in the presence of the College of Cardinals. From the moment of publication, they are bound by the obligations and they enjoy the rights defined in the law.

The Latin text is:

Cardinales creantur Romani Pontificis decreto, quod quidem coram Cardinalium Collegio publicatur; inde a publicatione facta officiis tenentur atque iuribus gaudent lege definitis.

I consulted four prominent canon lawyers in the U.S. and one in Rome (who consulted his Roman colleagues) and all agreed that if the pope dies before the consistory, the men are not cardinals. They say that cardinals are created at the consistory when the names are read out. That is the technical meaning of the words in the code.

The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law from the CLSA says: “This reflects the time when the college served as the papal court and appointments to the cardinalatial dignity were subject to debate and required the consent of the college.” In modern times the consent has become pro forma.

The text of Universi Dominici Gregis supports the view that they are not cardinals until the consistory: “A Cardinal of Holy Roman Church who has been created and published before the College of Cardinals thereby has the right to elect the Pope.”

Supporting this view is the language that the John Paul used in his 2003 announcement: “The month of October, the month of the Holy Rosary, is approaching. I entrust to Our Lady in a special way the consistory that I intend to hold on October 21, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my pontificate. Putting aside once again the established numerical limit, I will create new cardinals.” Note he uses the future tense, “I will create new cardinals.”

Finally, the Annuario Pontificio uses the formula “creato e pubblicato nel Consistoro” in the brief biography of each of the cardinals and uses the dates of the consistories not the earlier announcements for cardinals.

What happens when the pope gets sick?

If the pope becomes sick, he can delegate some of his authority to the cardinal secretary of state or to any other person. In the long history of the papacy, popes have formally or informally delegated authority to Vatican officials, cardinal nephews and other members of their families. But today the logical person to run the church while the pope is sick would be Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, who is more like a prime minister than a U.S. secretary of state. Such delegation presumes that the pope is still capable of making at least some decisions (such as the decision to delegate) and communicating. He cannot, however, delegate some aspects of his authority, such as his ability to teach infallibly.

The life of the church, which is lived mostly at the parish level, continues. Mass is celebrated and the sacraments are received. Bishops continue to run their dioceses. In the Vatican, the pope appoints people whom he trusts to follow the policies he has set. They can continue to do the ordinary business of the Vatican, but they cannot change policies without his approval. Also, when differences of opinion arise in the Vatican or between diocesan bishops and Vatican officials, these would normally be brought to the pope for decision. If he is too sick to deal with these, problems will not be dealt with.

Can a pope resign?

Yes, a pope can resign. Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will resign on February 28.

The number of popes who may have resigned has been estimated as high as 10, but the historical evidence is limited. Most recently, during the Council of Constance in the 15th century, Gregory XII resigned to bring about the end of the Western Schism and a new pope was elected in 1417. Pope Celestine V’s resignation in 1294 is the most famous because Dante placed him in hell for it.

Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable. As Paul VI said, paternity cannot be resigned. In addition, Paul feared setting a precedent that would encourage factions in the church to pressure future popes to resign for reasons other than health. Nevertheless, the code of canon law in 1917 provided for the resignation of a pope as do the regulations established by Paul VI in 1975 and John Paul II in 1996. However, a resignation induced through fear or fraud would be invalid. In addition, canonists argue that a person resigning from an office must be of sound mind (canon 187).

In 1989 and in 1994, John Paul II secretly prepared letters offering the College of Cardinals his resignation in case of an incurable disease or other condition that would prevent him from fulfilling his ministry, according to Msgr. Sławomir Oder, postulator of the late pope’s cause.

Catholic News Service reports:

The 1989 letter was brief and to the point; it says that in the case of an incurable illness that prevents him from “sufficiently carrying out the functions of my apostolic ministry” or because of some other serious and prolonged impediment, “I renounce my sacred and canonical office, both as bishop of Rome as well as head of the holy Catholic Church.”

In his 1994 letter the pope said he had spent years wondering whether a pope should resign at age 75, the normal retirement age for bishops. He also said that, two years earlier, when he thought he might have a malignant colon tumor, he thought God had already decided for him.

Then, he said, he decided to follow the example of Pope Paul VI who, in 1965, concluded that a pope “could not resign the apostolic mandate except in the presence of an incurable illness or an impediment that would prevent the exercise of the functions of the successor of Peter.”

“Outside of these hypotheses, I feel a serious obligation of conscience to continue to fulfill the task to which Christ the Lord has called me as long as, in the mysterious plan of his providence, he desires,” the letter said.

Historical evidence for papal resignations is limited, especially if one eliminates resignations that may have been forced.

  1. Clement I (92?-101). Epiphanius asserted that Clement gave up the pontificate to Linus for the sake of peace and became pope again after the death of Cletus.
  2. Pontian (230-235). Allegedly resigned after being exiled to the mines of Sardinia during persecution of Maximinus Thrax.
  3. Cyriacus. A fictional character created in the Middle Ages who supposedly received a heavenly command to resign.
  4. Marcellinus (296-304). Abdicated or was deposed after complying with Diocletian’s order to offer sacrifice to pagan gods.
  5. Martin I (649-655). Exiled by Emperor Constans II to Crimea. Before he died, clergy of Rome elected a successor whom he appears to have approved.
  6. Benedict V (964). After one month in office, he accepted deposition by Emperor Otto I.
  7. Benedict IX (1032-45). Benedict resigned after selling the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI.
  8. Gregory VI (1045-46). Deposed for simony by Henry III.
  9. Celestine V (1294). A hermit, elected at age of 80 and overwhelmed by the office, resigned. He was imprisoned by his successor.
  10. Gregory XII (1406-15). Resigned at request of Council of Constance to help end the Great Western Schism.

Source: Patrick Granfield, “Papal Resignation” (The Jurist, winter and spring 1978) and J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986).

Why did Benedict XVI resign?

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict responded unambiguously to a question about whether a pope could resign: “Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

On the other hand, he did not favor resignation simply because the burden of the papacy is great. “When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign. Precisely at a time like this one must stand fast and endure the situation. That is my view. One can resign at a peaceful moment or when one simply cannot go on. But one must not run away from danger and say someone else should do it.”

On February 11, Pope Benedict announced that he would resign on February 28 because "I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." He also said, "in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the minitary entrusted to me."

What is the long-term impact of Benedict’s resignation on the life of the church?

Pope Benedict’s resignation will make it easier for other elderly or sick popes to resign. It may even encourage the cardinals to elect a younger man with the understanding that he could voluntarily resign when he reached 75 or 80. Some fear that Benedict’s resignation will encourage people to pressure future popes to retire for reasons other than health—simply because they don’t like the pope or what he is doing or not doing.

Will Pope Benedict try to influence the election of his successor?

He already has by choosing more than half the cardinals who will elect his successor. In selecting cardinals, he has done what anyone would do—chosen men who agree with him on the important issues facing the church.

Once he resigns, he reverts to being a cardinal but since he is over 80 he cannot attend to conclave. He very wisely will leave the Vatican after his resignation and stay at Castel Gandolfo during the conclave in order to avoid the appearance of trying to influence the election. The tradition against popes trying to influence the selection of their successor goes back to the Sixth Century when people objected to Felix IV (526-30) instructing  the clergy and the Roman Senate to elect his archdeacon, Boniface, as his successor. On the other hand, some historians believe that St. Peter and some early popes did pick their successors.

What happens if a pope goes into a coma?

Problems would arise if a pope went into a coma.

The first problem would be determining who is responsible for making medical decisions for the pope. Clearly the pope should write a living will to indicate his desires and who has the authority to make medical decisions if he is unconscious. The best choice would be a family member, old friend or person appointed by the pope himself whose love and loyalty to the pope would be unquestioned but who would at the same time have the ability to make a tough decision. For Benedict, since his brother is still alive, he would be a perfect choice. But without such a document, decisions on his care would probably be made by the secretary of state, the highest ranking Vatican official. Having a cardinal under the age of 80 making these decisions would be unwise since it would feed the speculations of conspiracy theorists.

While the pope is in a coma, Vatican officials could continue to operate under their normal authority but any decision requiring the pope’s approval (the appointment of bishops, the approval of major documents, etc.) would simply have to wait.

Prior to the 19th century, this was less of a problem because role of the papacy was more limited and because doctors were more likely to kill a person with their care than keep him alive. The ability of modern medicine to keep the body alive while the mind is deteriorating will eventually present the church with a constitutional crisis. Although the church has traditionally taught that extraordinary means need not be used to keep alive a dying patient, John Paul II taught that a person in persistent vegetative state must be kept alive with fluids and nutrition. This could lead to an incapacitated pope in place for many years.

Prior to John Paul’s death, some believed that he had written a secret document to deal with the possibility of his being in coma, but his secretary, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz, indicated after the pope’s death that this was not the case. However, Msgr. Sławomir Oder, postulator of the late pope’s cause, says that he did (see “Can a pope resign?” above). There has been no indication that Benedict has written such a document. In any case, such a document might be questioned canonically since it was not formally promulgated. If he were a simple bishop, his “see” or diocese would be considered “impeded” and the provisions of canon law would be followed.

What would happen if a pope became mentally disabled or suffered from Alzheimer’s?

A pope in the early stages of Alzheimer’s could resign. If he refused, problems would arise. If a pope became mentally disabled, the church would face a constitutional crisis because there are no procedures for dealing with such a situation as there is in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Rev. James H. Provost wrote in America (Sept. 30, 2000).

Medieval canonists argued that if the pope became mentally disabled, he could no longer function as a human being and should be treated as if he were dead; a new pope would then be elected. More recent scholars have argued that the Holy Spirit would never let such a situation happen, although that seems a weak argument in light of the precedent of Urban VI (pope from 1378 to 1389), whose serious emotional or mental disturbances led the cardinals to exercise the option of electing another pope. This launched the church on the disastrous Western Schism (1378-1417).

A resignation could also be problematic because to resign from office one must be of sound mind (canon 187). If any other bishop became mentally disabled, his see would be considered “impeded” and the provisions of canon law would be followed.

What could the church do if the Apostolic See becomes impeded?

Canon 335 of the present Code of Canon Law directs that special laws are to be followed if the Apostolic See becomes impeded but no special legislation has been promulgated. “This is a rather serious vacuum in the church’s constitutional law,” the Rev. James H. Provost wrote in America (Sept. 30, 2000). Father Provost argued:

Since there are no rules for what to do in this situation, the standard canon law procedure is for the officials to turn to parallel cases for direction. Moreover, whatever they do will have to be seen by the church at large as being correct in order to avoid cries of foul play, or even another schism.

What parallels would be of help in this situation? First, the standard for what it means to be impeded is already given in the church’s law concerning a diocese. The pope is a diocesan bishop, so the norm of being incapable of communicating, even by letter, would apply to him. Second, who makes the determination that the pope is so impeded that something must be done? When a pope dies, it is the camerlengo who officially makes this determination. The camerlengo is a very trusted cardinal named by the pope to this special job. He would appear to be the logical one to make the determination that the pope is impeded. He needs to rely on truly competent experts in determining that the pope is dead; the same would be true in determining if the pope is impeded.

Who takes over while the pope is impeded? In a diocese, a coadjutor or auxiliary bishop automatically does so; otherwise, the diocesan bishop is supposed to have drawn up a list of those to be named. Only if there is no list do the consultors [a committee of priests appointed by the bishop] elect an administrator. The pope already has an auxiliary—the cardinal vicar of Rome, who does the daily running of the Roman diocese for the pope. On the other hand, when a pope dies, the camerlengo together with two other cardinals provides a sort of collegial administration until a new pope is elected. A similar process could be followed if a pope were impeded. But this would be different from the way the law says an impeded diocese is to be run, and it should be worked out in the section on “special laws” for the impeded Roman See that is still missing.

But the person who takes over would not be pope, and so could not exercise those special prerogatives that go with the papal office, such as the exercise of supreme jurisdiction or the gift of infallibility. This would hold up the appointment of bishops, action by the Roman Curia on issues of major importance that require the pope’s prior approval, the creation of new dioceses and the like.

For the complete text of "What If the Pope Became Disabled?" by the Rev. James H. Provost, click here.

During the Interregnum

What happens when the pope dies or resigns?

The interregnum and election of a new pope are governed by the rules established in the 1996 constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (“Of the Lord’s Whole Flock”) of John Paul II, as modified by Benedict in 2007.

When the pope dies, the prefect of the papal household (a German, Archbishop Georg Gänswein) informs the camerlengo (chamberlain) who must verify his death in the presence of the papal master of ceremonies, the cleric prelates of the Apostolic Camera and the secretary of the Apostolic Camera, who draws up a death certificate. As late as 1903, at the death of Leo XIII, this verification was ritually done by tapping the forehead of the pope with a silver hammer. It may also have been done with John XXIII, but not with Paul VI or John Paul I or II. The camerlengo (Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) tells the vicar of Rome (Cardinal Agostino Vallini) of the pope’s death and the vicar then informs the people of Rome. (In 2005, the sostituto, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, short-circuited the process by simply announcing the pope’s death to the people praying in St. Peter’s Square). Meanwhile the prefect of the papal household tells the dean (Cardinal Angelo Sodano) of the college of cardinals, who informs the rest of the college, the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and the heads of nations. Although this is the formal procedure, in fact most people will first hear of the death of the pope from the media.

The camerlengo locks and seals the private apartment of the pope. In the past looting of papal apartments by his staff, the cardinals or the Roman populace was a common custom. Modern popes have been more concerned that their private papers not fall into the wrong hands. Benedict, of course, took his private papers with him. If the pope writes a will, the executor he appoints will take care of his private property and his private papers. This executor is answerable only to the next pope. (In 2005, the John Paul’s private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz ignored the pope’s instructions and did not destroy his personal papers.) The pope’s Fisherman’s ring and his seal are broken to symbolize the end of his reign and to prevent forgeries. No autopsy is performed—which can lead to wild media speculation if the pope dies suddenly, as occurred with John Paul I.

How does the church deal with an ex-pope? What are his powers? What is he called? UPDATED 3/10/13

"After he resigns, the Holy Father will be known as 'His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus or Roman Pontiff Emeritus,'" said Federico Lombardi, S.J., of the Vatican press office. He will dress in a white cassock, without the mozzetta, the short cape worn by popes. He will no longer wear the Fisherman's Ring, which will be destroyed along with lead seal of his pontificate as is customary when a pope dies. the leaFiHe wil no longer  H

There is no room in the Catholic Church for two popes. Once Benedict resigns, he is no longer pope. He reverts to being a cardinal, and since he is over 80, he cannot attend the conclave.

In my opinion, once he resigns he should put aside the white cassock and put on the robes of a cardinal. He should no longer be called pope, or Benedict, or your Holiness, but should be referred to as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, bishop emeritus of Rome. After the new pope is elected, he should attend his installation along with the other retired cardinals and pledge his allegiance to the new pope.

I think it was a mistake for him to announce that he will be living inside the Vatican in a renovated monastery. The Vatican belongs to the new pope, and Cardinal Ratzinger needs the pope's permission to live there.

In short, like any other cardinal, Cardinal Ratzinger should do whatever the new pope tells him to do.

The title "pope emeritus" has already come under criticism by authoritative sources. In “Cessation of the office of the Roman pontiff” (La Civiltà Cattolica, February 28, 2013, which is published only after review and authorization by the Vatican secretariat of state), the canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J., rules out the idea that one who has renounced the office could continue to be referred to as “pope.” "We think that he should be given the title of bishop emeritus of Rome, like any other diocesan bishop who steps down," writes Ghirlanda.

Cardinal Ratzinger will probably be very happy to sit by the fire in his library reading theology books. If he wanted a public role, he would have stayed pope. The real issue is whether he will speak or write. Anything he says or writes will be examined by the media to see if it conflicts with anything the new pope says. Although in principle, I support his right to speak and write as a retired cardinal, in practice it could be confusing especially if the media tries to exploit anything he says. It would not be healthy for the church to hear, “The new pope says this, but Pope Benedict says that.”

After Pope Celestine V resigned as pope in 1216, Dante consigned him to the Inferno because he was disappointed that this saintly man had not stayed and reformed the church. His successor, Pope Boniface VIII, did not like the idea of an ex-pope even if the retired pope wanted to live in solitude. Boniface imprisoned Celestine, who he died 10 months later.

When is the pope’s funeral?

After the death of the pope, the cardinals arrange for the funeral rites for the pope, to be celebrated for nine consecutive days, in accordance with the Ordo Exsequiarum Romani Pontificis. The date for the funeral and burial is set by the college of cardinals, but Universi Dominici Gregis states it is to “take place, except for special reasons, between the fourth and sixth day after death.” The funeral is arranged by the camerlengo in accordance with instructions left him by the pope.

Who governs the church between the pope’s death/resignation and the election of a new pope?

All the cardinals and archbishops in charge of departments in the Roman Curia, including the secretary of state (Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone), lose their jobs when the pope dies. The ordinary faculties of these offices, which are run by their secretaries during the interregnum, do not cease on the death of the pope, but serious and controversial matters are to await the election of a new pope. The offices are run by their secretaries who remain in position, as do the secretary for relations with states (Archbishop Dominique Mamberti) and the sostituto (Archbishop Giovanni Becciu). If the matter cannot be postponed, the college of cardinals can entrust it to the prefect or president who was in charge of the office when the pope died (or to other cardinals who were members of that congregation or council). Any decision made is provisional until confirmed by the new pope.

Three major officials do not lose their jobs: the vicar of the diocese of Rome (Cardinal Agostino Vallini), the major penitentiary (Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro) and the camerlengo. The vicar for Rome provides for the pastoral needs of the diocese of Rome and continues to have all the powers he had under the deceased pope. The major penitentiary deals with confessional matters reserved to the Holy See, and he is allowed to continue functioning because the door to forgiveness should never be closed.

The camerlengo (Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) is the most important official during the interregnum. While the pope is alive, he has the authority to act for the pope in certain areas when the pope is away from Rome. On the death of the pope, the camerlengo takes charge of and administers the property and money of the Holy See, with the help of three cardinal assistants chosen by lot from among those cardinals under 80. During the interregnum he reports to the college of cardinals, which governs the church until a pope is elected. He also organizes the conclave. By appointing the cardinal secretary of state as the camerlengo, Benedict simplified the organizational structure and made sure that his secretary of state had an important role during the interregnum.

Although the government of the church is in the hands of the college of cardinals until a new pope is elected, the powers of the college are limited. It cannot change the rules governing papal elections, appoint cardinals or make any decisions binding on the next pope. The cardinals meet daily in a general congregation, presided over by the dean of the college (Cardinal Angelo Sodano), until the conclave begins. All the cardinals attend the general congregation, although attendance by those over 80 is optional. A commission headed by the camerlengo with three cardinals (chosen by lot and replaced every three days from among the cardinals under 80) can deal with lesser issues. The general congregations begin on Monday, March 3.

The dean of the college of cardinals is elected by and from the six cardinal bishops. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was dean prior to the last conclave, and his speech as dean to the cardinals prior to the conclave received great attention from the cardinals and the media.

What happens during the general congregation meetings? New 3/3/13

The American Jesuit theologian, Cardinal Avery Dulles, looked forward to the general congregations because he thought there would be a high-level discussion of issues facing the church. He was disappointed and bored by the proceedings in 2005.

According to the 1996 constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (“Of the Lord’s Whole Flock”), at the first general congregation, the cardinals are given a copy of the constitution and can raise questions about the meaning and implementation of its rules. The part of the constitution regarding the vacancy of the Apostolic See must also be read aloud. This is 3,500-words of tedious prose or 3,100 words if they drop the chapter on papal funerals. The cardinals must swear an oath on the Gospels to observe the constitution’s rules and to maintain secrecy.

In a subsequent congregations, the cardinals will deal with other boring issues such as approving expenses incurred between the resignation and election of a new pope and the logistical preparations for the conclave.

They also pick “two ecclesiastics known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority” who will present to the Cardinals two meditations on the problems facing the Church and on “the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope.” The first meditation is given sometime before the conclave while the second is given in the Sistine Chapel right before the first vote.

The most important thing the cardinals will have to decide is when to begin the conclave. The rules call for it beginning 15 days after the death or resignation of the pope, but Benedict revised the rule after his resignation was announced so that the cardinals could begin earlier if all the cardinal electors are present. Some cardinals argue that 15 days is unnecessary because there is no papal funeral, but I ask “what is the hurry?” This is the most important thing the cardinals will ever do in their lives. They should take their time. Sticking to the normal schedule will allow more time for cardinals from outside Rome to get to know each other and to exchange views on who should be pope. Rushing the conclave benefits the current frontrunners and the curial cardinals who already know all the cardinals.

In the past, the general congregation has only met in the morning. This time they will also meet in the afternoon so that they can get their business done and get into the conclave. This again is a bad idea. Tying up the cardinals in meaningless meetings reduces the time for informal interaction prior to the conclave.

The general congregation meetins are presided over by the dean of the college, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Is there campaigning prior to the conclave?

Any discussion, let alone campaigning, prior to the death of a pope is strictly forbidden. The prohibition against discussing papal succession while the pope is still alive dates back to Felix IV (526-30), who instructed the clergy and the Roman Senate to elect his archdeacon, Boniface, as his successor. The senate objected and passed an edict forbidding any discussion of a pope’s successor during his lifetime.

Even earlier, a Roman Synod in 499 forbade the clergy from promising or seeking votes.

St. Symmachus gathered at St. Peter’s basilica a council of seventy-two bishops, with the purpose of searching for a way to avoid in the future the return to similar scandals. With the unanimous consent of the assembly, he promulgated an important decree on the papal elections that can be summarized in the following three articles:

1. Prohibits for all the clergy, deacons or priests, under pain of deposition and excommunication, to promise his vote or to seek votes for the election of the future pontiff during the life and behind the back of the reigning pontiff. Prohibits, under the same pains, to attend meetings held for that same purpose.

2. For the purpose of impeding hidden frauds and clandestine conspiracies, it is established that those who reveal to the Church these low maneuvers inspired by a detestable ambition, not only will be protected from all prosecution but will be greatly rewarded.

3. Finally, if the pope dies suddenly, without having had any time to deal with the subject of his successor, will be elected the one who has received the votes of all the clergy, or, in case of a tie, of the majority of the voters. (Decret. Gratiani, part. I, dist. LXXIX, c. 10, Si transitus, t. I, p. 243).

When these decrees were presented to the assembly, the acclamations resounded, and all the fathers, standing up, wrote: “That it be done like this in the future! That the pontifical elections be done from now on in this manner and not in any other!” These prescriptions were signed by all the bishops present, numbering seventy-three, plus the sixty-six priests that attended the meeting.

[See Ut si quis papa superstite, constitution, Roman synod of March 1, 499, St. Symmachus (498-514). Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, edited by Giovanni Domenico Mansi, vol. VIII, pp. 229-238.]

Discussions prior to the conclave do occur privately among cardinals, but public campaigning, even after the pope’s death, is frowned upon and would probably be counterproductive. Normally the discussion of candidates is done privately by cardinals over dinner or in small groups. Cardinals who travel a great deal are sometimes suspected of doing this in order to meet and become known to other cardinals prior to the conclave. The cardinals have also gotten to know each other at synods of bishops, extraordinary consistories and other meetings where they see each other in action. But the best know cardinals tend to be those working in Rome where they meet prelates when they visit Rome. Curial cardinals are also better known by the Vatican press corps, which covers the conclave.

The Conclave

“The detailed description in Angels & Demons depicting the intimate ritual of Vatican conclave—the threaded necklace of ballots…the mixing of chemicals…the burning of the ballots—much of that was from a book published on Harvard University Press by a Jesuit scholar,” said Dan Brown [See Thomas J. Reese, Chapter 4, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (Harvard University Press, 1996)]

What do the cardinals look for in a candidate to be pope?

Each cardinal looks for three things. First, he looks for someone who would be a good pope, which means someone who agrees with the cardinal’s values and vision for the church.

Second, he looks for someone with whom he can have a good relationship. Ideally, he wants one of his cardinal friends as pope, someone who will listen to him. Personal relationships matter.

Third, he wants someone who will be well received in his home country, or at least someone who will not cause problems in the cardinal’s county. For example, U.S. cardinals would not want a pope who does not understand the sexual abuse crisis and says stupid things like “it is a creation of the media.” Nor do cardinals from countries with lots of Muslims want a pope who says stupid things about Islam. As Tip O’Neil said, “All politics is local.” This also applies to the Catholic Church.

When and where is the conclave held? UPDATED 2/26/13

Unless circumstances prevent it, the conclave takes place inside Vatican City and begins 15 days after death or resignation of the pope. For serious reasons, the cardinals can defer the beginning of the conclave, but it must begin within 20 days of the pope’s death. Before he resigned, Pope Benedict modified the rule so that the College of Cardinals could begin the conclave earlier "if all the cardinal electors are present." The exact date and time are set by the college of cardinals. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, with the cardinals living in the five-story Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence with 105 two-room suites and 26 single rooms built in 1996, which is vacated by its usual residents during a conclave. The rooms are assigned by lot. A number of elections in the 19th century were held in the Quirinal Palace, which was one of the pope’s palaces until the fall of the Papal States in 1870. The last election to take place outside Rome was in Venice in 1800.

Where does the word “conclave” come from?UPDATED 3/9/13

In the 13th century the papacy was vacant for a year and a half before the election of Innocent IV and for three and a half years before the installation of Gregory X. In the first case the election was finally forced by the senate and people of Rome, who locked up the cardinals until a pope was chosen in 1243. In the second case, the people of Viterbo in 1271 not only locked the cardinals in, but tore off the roof of the building and put the cardinals on a diet of bread and water. The word “conclave” comes from the Latin, “with a key,” as in locked with a key.

Today the cardinals are locked in to ensure secrecy and to protect them from outside influence. Before the conclave begins, all telephones, cell phones, radios, televisions and Internet connections are removed. No letters or newspapers are permitted. All the rooms are swept for electronic bugs by trained technicians. During the 2005 conclave, two reporters were told by a Swiss Guard that the floor of the Sistine Chapel was raised to make room for electronic jamming equipment. The Vatican spokesman denies this.

Who is permitted in the conclave?

All cardinals who are under 80 years of age when the pope dies or resigns have the right to vote for the next pope, unless they have been canonically deposed or, with the permission of the pope, have renounced the cardinalate. Even an excommunicated cardinal can attend. However, a cardinal who had resigned and joined Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to enter the conclave in 1800 but was turned away. Once inside the conclave, an elector may not leave except because of illness or other grave reasons acknowledged by a majority of the cardinals.

The current dean of the college of cardinals, Angelo Sodano, is over 80 and therefore may not enter the conclave. The sub-dean is also over 80, which means the most senior cardinal bishop, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will perform his duties. 

Also permitted in the conclave are nurses for infirmed cardinals, two medical doctors, religious priests who can hear confessions in various languages, the secretary of the College of Cardinals, the master of papal liturgical celebrations with two masters of ceremonies and two religious attached to the papal sacristy, and an assistant chosen by the cardinal dean. Also permitted are a suitable number of persons for preparing and serving meals and for housekeeping. They must swear absolute and perpetual secrecy concerning anything they learn concerning the election of the pope.

Who are the cardinal electors? Update 3/10/13

All cardinals under 80 years of age when the pope dies or resigns have the right to vote for the next pope. As of Feb. 11, 2013, there are 118 cardinal electors, of whom 67 were appointed by Benedict and the rest by John Paul II. One cardinal will turn 80 years of age before the pope's resignation takes effect on Feb. 28: Lubomyr Husar (Feb. 26). Under the current rules, he will not be allowed in the conclave because he turns 80 before the resignation takes place. Other cardinals turning 80 this year will be able to attend: Walter Kasper (March 5), Severino Poletto (March 18), Juan Sandoval Iniguez (March 28), Godfried Danneels (June 4), Francisco J. Errazuriz Ossa (Sept. 5), Raffaele Farina (Sept. 24), Geraldo Majella Agnelo (Oct. 19) and Joachim Meisner (Dec. 25).

In addition, two cardinals were excused from attending by the College of Cardinals: Keith O'Brien for "personal" reasons and Julius Darmaatmadja, S.J., for health reasons. O'Brien has admitted to sexual impropriety with seminarians.

The average age of the electors is 72 years of age. About 52 percent are from Europe—24 percent from Italy; 19 percent from the rest of Western Europe; 9 percent from Eastern Europe. About 34 percent are from the third world. Asia has 9.4 percent; Africa 9.4 percent; Latin America 16 percent. The United States has 9.4 percent, second only to Italy; Canada 2.6 percent. Curial cardinals make up about 35 percent of the electors, with an additional 10 percent being former Vatican officials who now head dioceses.

The maximum number of cardinals was set at 70 by Sixtus V in 1586. John XXIII ignored this limit, and the college grew to over 80 cardinals. In 1970 Paul VI reformed the college of cardinals by increasing the number of electors to 120, not counting those 80 years of age and over who were excluded as electors. John Paul II exceeded this limit by two in 1998 and by 15 in 2001 and 2003. Benedict returned to the legal limit of 120, until February 2012 when he raised it to 124. In November 2012, he returned to 120.

How has Benedict XVI changed the makeup of the college of cardinals?

Popes tend to make only minor adjustments in the geographical distribution of cardinals, but since the total number of cardinals is small, a couple of cardinals here or there make a difference. John Paul increased the number of Eastern European cardinals and decreased the number of Italian cardinals. Benedict has increased the percentage of Italian cardinals and curial cardinals in the conclave and reduced the percentage of cardinals from the third world.

Has the pope always been elected by the cardinals?

Although the college of cardinals elects the pope today, this was not the rule until the 11th century. Some early popes (including perhaps St. Peter) appointed their successors. Although appointing one’s successor was provided for by the Roman Synod of 499 cited above, this method fell out of favor when Felix IV (526-530) and Boniface II (530-532) tried to impose controversial candidates as their successors.

In the early church, popes were usually chosen by the clergy and people of Rome in the same way that bishops in other dioceses were elected. The one elected was then ordained by the bishops of the surrounding towns. This democratic process worked well when the church was small and united. But disagreements led to factions who fought over the papacy. As early as 217 the Christians of Rome were so divided over an election that fighting broke out. Pagan soldiers broke up the fight and exiled both men to the Sardinian tin mines. In 366, mobs and hired thugs from opposing factions invaded churches and killed opponents by the hundreds. Honorius (393-423) was the first Roman emperor to settle a disputed election by backing Boniface over Eulalius. Nobles, emperors and kings continued interfering in papal elections as the church became rich and powerful.

The papal electors were limited to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome by the Roman synod of 499 (although in some elections some of the laity still participated until the eighth century). This followed the pattern of other dioceses where the clergy elected the bishop. The man elected pope was normally a priest or deacon. No bishop was elected pope until 891 (Formosus), because it was considered improper for a bishop to leave the diocese for which he had originally been ordained a bishop. A bishop was considered “married” to his diocese, and moving to another diocese was comparable to adultery.

As early as 769, Pope Stephen III (768-772) convened a synod that restricted the electors to the cardinal priests and deacons. This rule was revoked and the vote was returned to the people and clergy of Rome by the Roman Constitution of 824. It also required the approval of the Western Emperor, although this requirement was eliminated by Marinus I (882-884). The Roman synod of 898 once again limited the vote to the clergy, who were to do it in the presence of the senate and people of Rome.

Nicholas II (1059-61) proposed a system whereby the cardinal bishops would meet to nominate a candidate and then invite in the cardinal priests to vote on him. Alexander III modified this system by including all the cardinals in the election process from the beginning. Since 1179, only cardinals have voted for the pope except for the election in 1417 that ended the Western Schism. In this election, 30 representatives chosen from the Council of Constance joined the 23 cardinals (five from the Roman line and 18 from the Pisa line) in electing the new pope.

The cardinals are divided into three orders or categories: cardinal deacons, cardinal priests and cardinal bishops. Originally, the cardinal priests were the pastors of major churches in Rome, and the cardinal deacons were important administrators in the diocese, often of what we would now call charities or social services. The cardinal bishops were the bishops of the six dioceses surrounding Rome. In the 11th century popes began appointing prelates in distant lands as cardinals. Things got very complicated when some bishops were named cardinal priests and deacons, and some priests were named cardinal deacons or bishops. (There were even some cardinals who received tonsure but were not deacons, priests or bishops). John XXIII decreed that all the cardinals should be bishops, although he kept the three orders. Some priests who were made cardinals after the age of 80, like Avery Dulles, have been exempted from becoming bishops.

What happens on the first day of the conclave? UPDATED 3/10/13

On the morning the conclave begins, the cardinal electors celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the afternoon at 4:30 PM they gather in the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace and solemnly process to the Sistine Chapel where they will meet until about 7:30 PM. The cardinals take an oath to observe the rules laid down in Universi Dominici Gregis, especially those enjoining secrecy. They also swear not to support interference in the election by any secular authorities or “any group of people or individuals who might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman pontiff.” Finally, the electors swear that whoever is elected will carry out the “munus Petrinum of pastor of the universal church” and will “affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and liberty of the Holy See.” Another section of the constitution says that the new pope is not bound by any oaths or promises made prior to his election.

After the oath is taken, everyone not connected with the conclave is ordered out with the Latin words “Extra omnes,” “Everybody out!” The Sistine Chapel and the Domus Sanctae Marthae are then closed to unauthorized persons by the camerlengo. Outside the conclave, the camerlengo is assisted by the sostituto of the Secretariat of State, who directs Vatican personnel to protect the integrity and security of the conclave.

After everyone else leaves, an ecclesiastic (87-year-old Cardinal Prospero Grech, OSA) chosen earlier by the college of cardinals gives a meditation “concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the universal church, solum Deum prae oculis habentes [having only God before your eyes].” When he finishes, he leaves the Sistine Chapel with the master of papal liturgical ceremony so that only the cardinal electors remain. The time in the chapel is for prayer and voting in silence, not campaign speeches. Negotiations and arguments are to take place outside the chapel. If they wish, the cardinals can immediately begin the election process and hold one ballot on the afternoon of the first day. If no one receives the required two-thirds vote in the balloting on the afternoon of the first day, the cardinals meet again the next morning.

How does the balloting take place?

The regulations for balloting are very detailed to eliminate any suspicion of electoral fraud—no hanging chads here. Three “scrutineers” (vote counters) are chosen by lot from the electors, with the least senior cardinal deacon drawing the names. He draws three additional names of cardinals (called infirmarii) who will collect the ballots of any cardinals in the conclave who are too sick to come to the Sistine Chapel. A final three names are drawn by lot to act as revisers, who review the work done by the scrutineers. Each morning and afternoon, new scrutineers, infirmarii and revisers are chosen by lot.

The electors use rectangular cards as ballots with “Eligo in summum pontificem” (“I elect as supreme pontiff”) printed at the top. When folded down the middle the ballot is only one inch wide. Each cardinal, in secret, prints or writes the name of his choice on the ballot in a way that disguises his handwriting. One at a time, in order of precedence, the cardinals approach the altar with their folded ballot held up so that it can be seen. After kneeling in prayer for a short time, the cardinal rises and swears, “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.” He then places the ballot in a silver and gilded bronze urn shaped like a wok with lid. There is a second smaller urn for ballots cast in the Domus Sanctae Marthae by cardinals too ill to go to the Sistine Chapel.

The first scrutineer shakes the egg-shaped urn to mix the ballots. The last scrutineer counts the ballots before they are unfolded. If the number of ballots does not correspond to the number of electors, the ballots are burned without being counted and another vote is immediately taken. If the number of ballots does match the number of electors, the scrutineers, who are sitting at a table in front of the altar, begin counting the votes.

The first scrutineer unfolds the ballot, notes the name on a piece of paper and passes the ballot to the second scrutineer. He notes the name and passes the ballot to the third scrutineer, who reads it aloud for all the cardinals to hear. If there are two names on a single ballot, the ballot is not counted. The last scrutineer pierces each ballot with a threaded needle through the word “Eligo” and places it on the thread. After all the ballots have been read, the ends of the thread are tied together and the ballots thus joined are placed in a third urn. The scrutineers then add up the totals for each candidate. Finally, the three revisers check both the ballots and the notes of the scrutineers to make sure that they performed their task faithfully and exactly.

To be elected, two thirds of the votes are required, calculated on the basis of the total number of electors present. Should it be impossible to divide the number of cardinals present into three equal parts, for the validity of the election one additional vote is required. Thus if all the current 120 cardinal electors are present, 80 votes would be required to elect a new pope.

The ballots and notes (including those made by any cardinal) are then burned unless another vote is to take place immediately. The ballots are burned by the scrutineers with the assistance of the secretary of the conclave and the master of ceremonies, who adds special chemicals to make the smoke white or black. Since 1903, white smoke has signaled the election of a pope; black smoke signals an inconclusive vote. The only written record of the voting permitted is a document prepared by the camerlengo and approved by the three cardinal assistants, which is prepared at the end of the election and gives the results of each session. This document is given to the new pope and then placed in the archives in a sealed envelope that may be opened by no one unless the pope gives permission.

How long can the conclave last?

The conclave lasts until a new pope is elected. The last conclave to go more than five days was in 1831: it lasted 54 days. In the 13th century the papacy was vacant for a year and a half before the election of Innocent IV and for three and a half years before the installation of Gregory X. Since then 29 conclaves have lasted a month or more. Often wars or civil disturbances in Rome caused these lengthy interregnums. Sometimes delays were caused by the cardinals themselves, who enjoyed the power and financial rewards of running the papacy without a pope. These abuses led to rules governing an interregnum and requiring the speedy calling of a conclave.

On the other hand, the 2005 conclave was over within 24 hours when Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot.

What happens after the first day? UPDATE 3/13/13

If no one receives the required two thirds of the votes in the balloting on the evening of the first day, the cardinals celebrate Mass at 8:15 AM in the Pauline Chapel and then meet again in the Sistine Chapel at 9:30 AM. After reciting the Divine Office, they again vote. If they are again unsuccessful, they immediately vote again. From then on, there can be two votes in the morning (beginning at 9:30 AM) and two in the afternoon (beginning at 4:50 PM). Each morning and afternoon, new scrutineers, infirmarii and revisers are chosen by lot. If a second vote takes place, the materials from two votes are burned at the same time. Thus twice a day there will be black smoke around noon and 7 PM from the stove until a pope is elected. White smoke could appear at these times or earlier, around 10:30 AM or 5:30 PM if a pope is elected on the first ballot of the morning or afternoon.

If after three days the cardinals have still not elected anyone, the voting sessions can be suspended for a maximum of one day for prayer and discussion among the electors. During this intermission, a brief spiritual exhortation is given by the senior cardinal deacon (Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran). Then another seven votes take place, followed by a suspension and an exhortation by the senior cardinal priest (Godfried Danneels). Then another seven votes take place, followed by a suspension and an exhortation by the senior cardinal bishop (Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re). Voting is then resumed for another seven ballots.

If no candidate received a two-thirds vote after this balloting, Universi Dominici Gregis of John Paul II allowed an absolute majority (more than half) of the electors to waive the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote. Thus, an absolute majority of the electors could decide to elect the pope by an absolute majority.

This innovation was criticized, by myself and others, as contrary to centuries of tradition. We pointed out that if an absolute majority of the electors favored a candidate in the first ballot of the first day of the conclave, the election could in practice be over because they could hold firm for about 10 to 12 days until they could change the rules and elect their candidate. In the past, the two-thirds requirement was an incentive for the electors to compromise or move to another candidate. Under John Paul’s rules, a majority did not have to compromise. It could hold tight, while the minority is pressed to give in since everyone knows that eventually the majority will prevail. In such a case, the minority would undoubtedly give in rather than scandalize the faithful and upset the man who inevitably would become pope.

Cardinals who attended the 2005 conclave told John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter that they were very conscious of the fact that anyone who came close to a majority would be difficult to stop.

John Paul II did not explain in Universi Dominici Gregis why he made this change. Perhaps he feared a long conclave. By giving the cardinals more comfortable quarters, he reduced the discomfort factor that discouraged long conclaves. Allowing the cardinals to elect a pope with an absolute majority reduces the likelihood of a conclave going on for months.

In 2007 Pope Benedict overturned John Paul’s innovation and returned to the absolute requirement of a two-thirds majority. Instead, the pope instructed that if the cardinals are deadlocked after 33 or 34 votes (depending on whether there was a vote the first day), which would take 13 days, runoff ballots between the two leading candidates will be held. This procedure is problematic because if neither of the candidates is able to get a two-thirds vote, the conclave will be deadlocked with no possibility of choosing a third candidate as a compromise. The two leading cardinals cannot vote in the runoff ballots, though they remain in the Sistine Chapel, where conclaves are held. Nor do Benedict’s new rules say what to do if two candidates are tied for second place.

When should we look for smoke? NEW 3/10/13

Until a pope is elected, twice a day there will be black smoke around noon and 7 PM. White smoke could appear at these times or earlier, around 10:30 AM or 4:30 PM if a pope is elected on the first ballot of the morning or afternoon.

Who can be elected?

In theory, any man can be elected who is willing to be baptized and ordained a priest and bishop. He does not have to be at the conclave. The last noncardinal elected was Urban VI (1378). The last cardinal to be elected pope who was a priest but not a bishop was Gregory XVI (1831). Callistus III (Alfonso Borgia [or Borja] 1455) was the last person to be elected who was not a priest. Most likely a cardinal elector will be elected, all of whom today are bishops.

Who might be elected?

It should be remembered that prior to the death of John Paul II, no one in the media predicted the election of Cardinal Ratzinger. His name surfaced prominently only after John Paul’s death. As a result, prophets should be modest in their projections. It is better to speak of the qualities we might see in the next pope; then, at least, one has a chance of being partially right.

The next pope will probably be a cardinal between 63 and 73 years of age who speaks Italian and English and reflects Benedict’s and John Paul’s positions (liberal on social justice and peace, traditional in church teaching and practice, and ecumenical but convinced the church has the truth) but has a very different personality from either John Paul or Benedict.

Age. Prior to the 2005 conclave, I predicted the cardinals would choose someone between 62 and 72 years of age. I was wrong. Of the nine popes who reigned in the 20th century (beginning with Leo XIII), their average age at the time of election was 65 years, with John XXIII the oldest at 76 and John Paul II the youngest at 58. The average age of the current cardinals is 72. Benedict was 78 when elected, older than all but three popes elected by cardinals through the centuries. I would argue it is unlikely the cardinals will choose another old cardinal.

Languages. John Paul and Benedict have shown how important it is for the pope to be multilingual. Italian is important because it is the language of the people of Rome, for whom the pope is diocesan bishop. It is also the working language of the Vatican Curia. English is important because it is almost everyone’s first or second language. Spanish is valuable because it is the language of so many Catholics. Languages are also important because the cardinals will want to be able to converse with the pope using a language in which they are comfortable.

Positions. There was not a great amount of difference between Benedict and John Paul on the important issues facing the church, although Benedict was a little more conservative than John Paul on interreligious dialogue, ecumenism and liturgy and a little less activist in justice and peace issues. John Paul and Benedict have appointed all the current cardinals under the age of 80 who will elect Benedict’s successor. In appointing cardinals, John Paul II and Benedict have done what anyone would do if they were pope—they have appointed men who agree with them on the major issues that face the church. The next conclave, as a result, will not elect someone who will reject the legacy of John Paul or Benedict. With the next pope, we will see more continuity than change.

As a result, there will be more continuity than change in church doctrine and policy. That means someone who is liberal on political and economic issues but traditional on sexual morality and internal church issues. Someone who supports ecumenical and interreligious dialogue but is convinced the church has the truth. In short, I do not support the “pendulum” theory when it comes to doctrine, but it may be true on personality and governance style (see below).

Personality. While there will be a continuity in policy, there will be a change in personality because there is no one in the college with Benedict’s or John Paul’s personality and cloning is against church teaching. There is no one with a personality like John Paul’s in the college of cardinals, with a background as a Polish actor, intellectual and teacher who grew up under Nazism and Communism. Nor is there anyone like Benedict with his background as a German theologian and prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith who grew up in Germany during the Second World War.

Less Centralization? Prior to the 2005 conclave, I predicted that when the cardinals gathered in conclave, they would praise John Paul “of happy memory,” but there might be a backlash against the Vatican Curia, whose power has grown during his papacy. Even the most conservative cardinal, I argued, wanted to run his diocese the way he thinks best without interference from Rome. The cardinals may therefore look, I argued, for someone who would support more decentralization of decision making in the church—more power to bishops and bishops’ conferences. Granted the election of Cardinal Ratzinger, who played a major role in centralizing power in Rome under John Paul’s papacy, I was obviously wrong. On the other hand, there have been complaints about the poor administration of the Vatican curia under Benedict—although his secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone, has borne the brunt of that criticism. As a result, some argue that the next pope should have greater administrative skills than his immediate predecessors.

A Curial Cardinal? About two thirds of the cardinals are diocesan bishops who are running local churches. In the past, I argued that they would want someone who knows what it is like to be a local bishop, not simply a Vatican bureaucrat. Many cardinals working in the curia, like Cardinal Ratzinger, had diocesan experience before they came to Rome, and some Vatican officials left the curia and became cardinals as archbishops of local churches. These cardinals with both types of experience have an advantage. Of the popes elected during the 20th century, only Pius XII had no diocesan experience, and only three (Pius X, John Paul I and John Paul II) never worked in the Vatican. The remaining five had worked in the curia but were leaders of archdioceses when elected pope.

What are the chances of an American being elected? UPDATED 3/12/13

Very slim. First, although a number of the American cardinals are fluent in Spanish, Americans are not great linguists. Second, and most important, the cardinals would worry about how the election of an American would be perceived around the world, especially in the third world and Muslim nations. Many in the third world would suspect that the C.I.A. fixed the election or Wall Street bought it. Muslims would fear that an American pope was going to be a chaplain for the White House. Finally, through the centuries the church has tried to keep the papacy out of the hands of the reigning superpower, whether that was the Holy Roman Empire, France or Spain. When France captured the papacy, it moved it to Avignon in 1309, where it stayed until 1377.

On the other hand, the personality of the American could counter much of this. Shawn O’Malley, a Franciscan, does not come across as a crusader. Franciscans have a history of living at peace with Muslims. In addition, if the American pope made clear early on that the Vatican foreign policy is not an echo of American foreign policy, that would allay fears.

Who would you bet on to be the next pope?

I am not Jimmy the Greek, nor do I gamble. If you want to know what a bookie thinks, see paddypower.com on who might succeed Benedict.

What issues will be discussed in the conclave?

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neil was correct: “All politics is local,” even in the Catholic Church.

The cardinals from the third world have people who are starving and suffering from the negative impact of globalization of the economy. They will want a pope who will speak out for social justice and forgiveness of third-world debt and be willing to stand up to the American superpower. Cardinals from Africa and Asia are confronted by growing Islamic fundamentalism. They will want a pope who understands Islam and will not use inflammatory words like “crusade,” as did President George W. Bush. They want a pope who, like John Paul, will support dialogue with Muslims but at the same time stand up for the rights of Catholics.

On the other hand, in Latin America there are few Muslims. The concern there is the evangelicals and Pentecostals who are “stealing their sheep.”

In North America and Europe, the cardinals will want a pope who will continue the fight of Benedict against secularism and relativism but also support ecumenical dialogue with Protestants and Jews. Given the growing alienation of educated women, they would also want someone who projects an understanding of women’s concerns. The last thing they would want, for example, is a pope who would decide to get rid of altar girls. The American cardinals would also want someone who understands and supports what they are doing to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. Europeans are concerned about the growing number of Muslims in Europe.

What happens after the election?

The cardinal dean asks the elected man, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” Since Cardinal Ratzinger was the dean, he was asked by the sub-dean. Since the dean and sub-dean are too old to attend the conclave, the most senior cardinal bishop, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will perform do this.

Rarely does anyone say no. When offered the papacy at the conclave in Viterbo in 1271, St. Philip Benizi fled and hid until another candidate was chosen. Likewise St. Charles Borromeo, one of the few cardinals to be canonized, turned down the papacy. When Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, the 76-year-old archbishop of Milan, began receiving votes during the conclave in October 1978, he made it clear that he would refuse the papacy if elected. If the man says yes, then he becomes pope immediately if he is already a bishop. The rest is simply ceremony. If he is not already a bishop, he is to be ordained one immediately by the cardinal dean and becomes pope as soon as this has been done. The dean in ancient times was the bishop of Ostia, a nearby town.

He is then asked by what name he wants to be called. The first pope to change his name was John II in 533. His given name, Mercury, was considered inappropriate since it was the name of a pagan god. Another pope in 983 took the name John XIV because his given name was Peter. Reverence for the first pope precluded his becoming Peter II. At the end of the first millennium a couple of non-Italian popes changed their names to ones that the Romans could more easily pronounce. The custom of changing one’s name became common around the year 1009. The last pope to keep his own name was Marcellus II, elected in 1555.

The cardinals then approach the new pope and make an act of homage and obedience. A prayer of thanksgiving is then said, and the senior cardinal deacon (Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran) informs the people in St. Peters Square that the election has taken place and announces the name of the new pope. The pope then may speak to the crowd and grant his first solemn blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city and the world. John Paul I and John Paul II prolonged the conclave until the following morning so that they could meet and dine with the cardinals. After his election, Benedict also invited all the cardinals to dinner at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The inauguration Mass took place on Sunday, April 24, 2005, five days after the election (in the past this would have involved crowning the pope with the papal tiara, but since John Paul I, this involves the receiving of the pallium). Later still he takes possession of his cathedral, St. John Lateran.

Other Questions

What issues will the next pope face?

These have not radically changed since the election of Benedict.

2005 Post-Conclave Books

  • John Allen, The Rise of Benedict XVI: The Inside Story of How the Pope Was Elected and Where He Will Take the Catholic Church, (Doubleday, 2005)
  • Paul Collins, God’s New Man: The Election of Benedict XVI and the Legacy of John Paul II (Continuum, 2005)
  • David Gibson, The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World (HarperOne, 2005)
  • Andrew Greeley, The Making of the Pope 2005 (Little Brown, 2005)
  • Robert Blair Kaiser, A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future (Knopf, 2006)
  • George Weigel, God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, (HarperCollins, 2005)
  • John Thavis, The Vatican Diaries (Viking, 2013)

2005 Pre-Conclave Books & Information

  • Thomas J. Reese, “Chapter 4: The College of Cardinals,” Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (Harvard University Press, 1996).
  • John Allen, Jr., Conclave (Random House, 2002)
  • Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaite, The Next Pope (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995; revised 2000)
  • John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis (1996)
  • James H. Provost, “What If the Pope Became Disabled?”, America (Sept. 30, 2000)
  • Catholic News Service: Pre-Conclave Stories
  • James-Charles Noonan, Jr., The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (Viking, 1996)
  • Florida International University maintains lists and biographies of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Betting Odds on Papal Candidates from paddypower.com.
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Fr. David Bruning
11 years 4 months ago
As I read Fr. Reese's enumeration of cardinals turning 80 this year, I couldn't help but notice that Cardinal Kaspar is turining 80 March 5. With Pope Benedict resigning effective Februardy 28, the conclave will most likely begin just a few days after his 80th birthday. Both were professors at the same university together in Germany and were known to have "mixed it up" a bit in their theological discussions. Perhaps the timing is coincidence, but it does look interesting given that background.

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