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How They Elect The New Pope

Cardinals from around the world will meet in the Sistine Chapel in Rome to decide on a new Pope (Getty Images)

Now that Pope Benedict has resigned, the 115 cardinals under the age of 80 will meet to vote on a new Pope. Once they’re all in Rome, they can’t leave until the final decision is made and they can’t talk to anyone outside of the conclave. And that includes social media. A ruling by Pope John Paul II in 1996 called for the Sistine Chapel to be checked for any hidden cameras or microphones before balloting begins.

Voting must be in person, votes are by paper ballot and it’s secret.

On the first voting day, the cardinals attend a morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, then in the afternoon they walk to the Sistine Chapel to begin the voting.

The cardinals write in the name of a candidate, fold it up and one by one in order of seniority they place their ballot in a chalice on the altar. Once all the ballots are deposited, one by one the ballots are counted. A candidate needs two thirds majority to become pope. After each vote all the ballots along with any notes that were taken are burned in the fireplace and a special chemical is added to the fire to signify whether a decision had been made or not. Black smoke signifies the new pope has not been decided meaning another vote will take place. They continue the process over a period of days and if they haven’t decided after the seventh vote, it then goes to a simple majority between the most popular candidates from the previous votes.

Once the decision is made, no chemical is added and the white smoke means they’re ready to introduce the new Pope.

One more thing – the winner must agree to the decision and once he does he’s asked to choose the name he’ll use as Pope.

The oldest cardinal then announces the choice to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and then he’s joined by the new Pope to bless the crowd.


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