The Pope may be no more. On the two possible African candidates, see  Cardinal Arinze  Cardinal Okojie

Papal election

The Sistine Chapel is the location of the conclave. It was richly
decorated by the famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo.Papal
elections are the method by which the Roman Catholic Church fills the
office of Bishop of Rome, whose incumbent is usually referred to as
the Pope. An occasion steeped in centuries-old tradition, a meeting
of clergymen held to select the Pope is referred to as a conclave.
The term comes from the Latin phrase cum clavi ("with a key"),
referring to the "locking away" of the electors during the process.
Conclaves have been employed since the Second Council of Lyons
decreed in 1274 that the electors should meet in seclusion. They are
now held in the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.

Since the year 1059, the College of Cardinals has served as the body
charged with the election of the Pope. In earlier times, members of
the clergy and the people of Rome were entitled to participate. Popes
may make rules relating to election procedures; they may determine
the composition of the electoral body, replacing the entire College
of Cardinals if they so please. They may not, however, designate
their own successors.


1 Historical development

1.1 Electorate
1.2 Choice of the electors
1.3 Secular influence
1.4 Conclaves

2 Modern practice

2.1 Death of the Pope
2.2 Beginning of the election
2.3 Voting
2.4 Acceptance and proclamation

3 Notes

4 See also

5 References

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.


The earliest bishops were most likely chosen by the founders of their
communities. Later, however, this method was replaced in Rome and
elsewhere with that of election by the clergy and laity of the
community and the bishops of neighbouring dioceses. The true
electoral body was the clergy, which did not cast votes, instead
selecting the Pope by general consensus or by acclamation (the
bishops supervised the process). The candidate would then be
submitted to the people for their approbation; Romans typically
signified approval (or disapproval) tumultuously. The lack of clarity
in the election procedures often resulted in the election of rival
Popes or antipopes.

A Synod of the Lateran held in 769 officially abolished the
theoretical suffrage possessed by the Roman people, but in 862, a
Synod of Rome restored it to Roman noblemen. A major change came 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. A Synod of
the Lateran held in 1139 removed the requirement that the assent of
the lower clergy and the laity be obtained.

Having fallen to as few as seven members in the 13th century, the
College grew until in 1587, Sixtus V limited the cardinalate to 70
members (six Cardinal Bishops, 50 Cardinal Priests, and 14 Cardinal
Deacons) but Popes since John XXIII have paid no heed to the
guideline. In 1970, Paul VI ousted cardinals over the age of eighty
from the electorate and increased the limit on the number of cardinal
electors to 120. Even this limitation has been disregarded by John
Paul II. As of March 2005, 117 out of the 183 cardinals are qualified
to vote.

Choice of the electors

Originally, lay status did not bar election to the Bishopric of Rome.
In 769, the candidate was required to be a clergyman; the
requirements later became more stringent, with only cardinals being
eligible to be elected. In 1179, the Third Council of the Lateran
reversed these requirements, once more allowing laymen to be elected
(this does not mean the person elected remains an unordained layman
while serving as pope; see acceptance and proclamation below). In
1378, Urban VI became the last Pope who was not a cardinal at the
time of his election. There is no requirement that a Bishop of Rome
be Italian; the current incumbent, John Paul II, is Polish. The last
of his predecessors to hail from a nation outside Italy was the
Dutchman Adrian VI, elected in 1522. In the current day, any baptised
male, except for a heretic, schismatic or simonist, can be elected by
the College of Cardinals.1 Women have never been eligible for the
papacy; claims that there was a female Pope named 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 themselves2. In 1945, however,
Pius XII dispensed with the procedure, compensating for the change by
increasing 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 the electorate to change the required majority to
a simple majority if deadlocked for thirteen days.

Electors 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 Zacharias 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. St Pius X, as Cardinal Sarto
came to be known, 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. 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 changes. 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
Vatican City (which has, since the Lateran treaties of 1929, been
recognised as an independent state). Within Rome and 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.

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 Sanctae Marthae, but are to continue to vote in the Sistine

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 make appearances in the media. A Cardinal who is
considered to be a prospect for the papacy are referred to informally
as being papabile (plural: papabili), the term being coined
by "Vaticanologists" in the mid twentieth century.

Death of the Pope

The Cardinal Camerlengo proclaims a papal death.The death of the Pope
is verified by the Cardinal Camerlengo, 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 thrice. The
ceremony has not been observed during the twentieth century; under
Universi Dominici Gregis, the Camerlengo must merely declare the
Pope's death 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.

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 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 must take place from four to six days of the
Pope's death, 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 Vatican City.

A vacancy in the papal office may also result from a papal
abdication, though no pope has abdicated since Gregory XII in 1409.

Beginning of the election

On the morning of the day ascertained by the Congregations of
Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble in St Peter's Basilica to
celebrate the Eucharist. Then, they assemble in the afternoon in the
Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican, proceeding to the
Sistine Chapel while singing the Veni Creator. 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. 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 the confession in different languages; two doctors are also
admitted. Finally, a severely limited number of servant staff are
permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals3.
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. Universi Dominici Gregis specifically
prohibits media such as newspapers, the radio, and television.


On the afternoon of the first day, only one ballot is held. If no-one
is elected on the first ballot, four ballots are held on each
successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. If no
result is obtained within three days, the process is suspended for
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 reduce the two-thirds majority requirement to a
simple majority requirement. The cardinals may also eliminate all
candidates except the two who have received the greatest number of
votes in the previous ballot; in this case as well, a simple majority
suffices for an election.

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 or her room, the Infirmarii go to
their rooms with ballot papers and a box. 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. The oath is taken by all
cardinals only at the first vote.

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, 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

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;
now chemicals are used.

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, the Cardinal Dean must first ordain him a bishop before he
can assume office. Since 535, the new Pope has also decided on the
name by which he is to be called at this time. Thereafter, 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
implies the conglomeration of joy and sorrow. Here, one finds the
white papal robes in three different sizes. The Pope dresses alone,
returning to the conclave, where the Cardinal Camerlengo places the
Fisherman's Ring on the new Pope's finger and each cardinal pays
homage to the Pope, who sits on a footstool near the altar.

Next, the senior Cardinal Deacon 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].")4
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. John Paul I abolished the
elaborate coronation ceremony, replacing it with a simpler


1. Sedevacantists hold that the office of Pope was vacated either by
the election of Pope John XXIII (whom they deem a heretic), or by the
enactment of major reforms by the Second Vatican Council (support for
which they deem heretical). Some factions of sedevacantism have held
their own papal elections (such as the supporters of Lucian
Pulvermacher), whilst others consider the papacy vacant.

Cardinals used intricate ballot papers, one of which is shown folded
above.2. Each ballot paper was divided into three parts; in the first
was written the cardinal's name, in the second the name of the
individual voted for, and in the third a motto and number of the
cardinal's choice (which were to be used to verify that each cardinal
wrote only his or her own name on the ballot). The first and third
divisions were folded down and sealed, with the middle exposed; the
back was heavily decorated so that the writing would not be visible
(see illustration on right). Thus, when the Scrutineers (the vote
counters) removed a ballot paper from the ballot box, they could see
only the name of the candidate voted for. If the winning candidate
received exactly two-thirds of the votes, the ballot papers were
unsealed to ensure that the winning cardinal did not vote for
himself. Modern ballots differ from the complicated older ballots in
that the cardinals do not write anything other than the name of the
individual voted for on them; furthermore, they are only folded once
and need not be specially sealed.
3. Formerly, cardinals regularly had meals sent in from their homes.
Much pageantry accompanied the conveyance of food, which was taken
from a cardinal's home to the Vatican in a state coach. An officer
known as the Seneschal Dapifer was responsible for ensuring that the
food was not poisoned. The dishes, in small boxes covered with green
and violet drapery, were carried through the hall, preceded by an
individual carrying the cardinal's ceremonial mace and by the
Seneschal Dapifer bearing a serviette on the shoulder. Before the
cardinals could receive them, the dishes were carefully inspected to
make sure that no correspondence was enclosed in it. These ceremonies
have not been observed since the nineteenth century.

4. A WAV file of Albino Cardinal Luciani's announcement as Pope John
Paul I is available here

See also

Elective monarchy
Sede vacante
Papal abdication


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Joyce, G. H. (1911). "Election of the Popes." The Catholic
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National Geographic. (2004). "Inside the Vatican."
Reese, T. J. (1996). "Revolution in Papal Elections." America.
(Volume 174, issue 12, p. 4)
Universi Dominici Gregis. (1996).
Wintle, W. J. (1903). "How the Pope is Elected." The London Magazine,
June, 1903. (http://www.hidden-
Francis A. Burkle-Young,Passing the Keys':Modern Cardinals,
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(ISBN 1568331304)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Voting Cardinals

Note: Cardinals under the age of 80 at the time the Holy See becomes vacant may vote in a conclave.
117 voting Cardinals of 183 living Cardinals. This table was last updated on 31 Mar 05