Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Conclave: The Papal Election Process

The following is an original article written by Amanda Milewski, contributing writer to the Pope Blog.

Upon the death of the Pope, a monumental sequence of events unfolds, culminating in a process known as the conclave whereby a new Pope is elected to fill the vacancy of the Holy See (sede vacante) and lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Beneath Michelangelo's awe-inspiring frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, the College of Cardinals, led by Cardinal Camerlengo Eduardo Martinez Somalo, begins the arduous process of selecting a new Successor of St. Peter between 15 and 20 days following the Pope's death. This group, also known as the Cardinalate, currently is comprised of 183 cardinals from all over the world. The College is led by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Of the 183, only those who are under the age of 80 are eligible to vote in the papal election. Currently, there are 117 Cardinal Electors who are eligible; although, it is not a given that all 117 will participate, as illness sometimes prevents some cardinals from traveling.

In the conclave, an ancient ritual enduring little change since Pope Gregory X instituted it during the thirteenth century, the cardinals take an oath of secrecy, that if broken renders the offender automatically excommunicated from the Church. There are no televisions, radios, or newspapers allowed inside the conclave. The word "conclave" is derived from the Latin cum clavi, "with a key," and refers to the locking away of the cardinals until they elect a new Pope. The new rules instituted by Pope John Paul II in his 1996 apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, however, allow for the cardinals to retire at the end of each day. So in effect, the word "conclave" does not apply in the same way now as it had previously.

The Cardinal Electors, all but three of whom were appointed by Pope John Paul II, will vote in a very thorough process of secret balloting. A two-thirds majority is needed to elect a new Pope. The College may vote up to four times a day, but if a new Pope has not been chosen by the third day, then the cardinals cease the voting process for a day of prayer and reflection. Following the day of prayer, the voting process will again commence for another seven votes, then another day of prayer. If after a total of 30 ballots the Cardinal Electors have still not produced a new Pontiff, then the two-thirds majority rule is done away with. Only an absolute majority will be required.

The first indication to the outside world that a new Pope has been elected is the telling smoke signals. After each voting session a smoke signal is given by burning the ballots. If the voting session is inconclusive, straw is added to the burning ballots to produce black smoke. Conversely, white smoke signals that a new Pope has been chosen.

One of the main issues in this upcoming papal election is one of the effects that the doctrine of Second Vatican Council will have. Namely, Vatican II no longer requires cardinals to study Latin. Therefore, the issue of a language barrier is a potential problem that the College may face, since the College of Cardinals, which is also more diverse than ever and speaks more languages than ever, will not share a single common language for the first time in history.

Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978 and has since been revered by Catholics as well as other Christian denominations, Jews, and Muslims for being a "Pope for the people." More than any of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II traveled the world, visiting and praying with the people of the area. Many attribute the restoration of the Catholic Church to Pope John Paul II. Much speculation has arisen regarding the Pope's successor, who the next will be to fill the shoes of St. Peter and act as the Jesus Christ's emmissary on earth. The outcome of the conclave is widely anticipated and only when Cardinal Ratzinger comes out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to address us with the words "Habemus Papam!" will the world know who the next Pope will be.


Anonymous said...

Excelent article, Amanda. Thanks a lof for that, and God bless.

Anonymous said...

Really excellent informational summary. I would also note that, although cardinals used to be required to study Latin, from what I have heard I gather a decline in the general level of knowledge in Latin was already evident at Vatican II, where bishops tended to give only prepared speeches in Latin rather than actually directly conversing or debating with each other, because many did not know Latin well enough to converse effectively in it. That being the case, it might easily be that real discussion in Latin may already have been a difficulty even among some cardinals in the conclaves of 1978, although they all technically knew the language to a degree. Regardless, of course it will be a much bigger problem now, as you quite rightly pointed out.

ericl said...

You forgot to mention, Amanda, that many of the rituals only date back to the last century.

The smoke signals, for example, only date to 1914, because in 1903, Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria/Hungary vetoed the leading candidate on the fourth ballot.

The secrecy of papal elections were only mandated 101 years ago.

The first time the secretary of State went opened the window and cried out to the world "Joyous News! Habius Papem!!!!" was in 1922.

The reason was that the temporal ruler of the States of the Church refused to accept the fact that the Kingdom of Italy wasn't going to return the Occupied Territories until the newly elected Pius XI,gave up. He then ordered negotiations with Mussalini and they signed the famous concordant setting up The Vatican City in 1929.

From 1870 to that year, the "prisoner of the Vatican" refused to look on italian soil.

Prior to 1870, the Conclaves were generally held in the Quirinale palace on the other side of town. The exception was in 1800, when they were held in Venice, but that's another story....

So remember, when they talk of "ancient traditions" most of the time they're wrong.

Anonymous said...

For the first time in history, wIll the common language be English?

J. Mark English said...

Fascinating Blog. I wish I knew about this earlier.

I look forward to reading more commentary.


Anonymous said...

To many John Paull II did not restore the church but exactly the opposite. He un-did many of the reforms of Vatican II, and made the papacy authoritarian, wheras; Vatican II was moving the church towards a sharing of power among the bishops.

Also, because of his backwards stand on issues, many American Catholics have left the church, espcially in the last 3 years. Cardinal Law of Boston, who resigned because of the child abuse and coverup scandal, was then appointed to an important position in Rome by John Paul II>

Bridget Mary Meehan said...

Discipleship of Equals

The Women-Church Convergence represents another approach, to the conclave, an "open forum" where all are invited to participate in the process of selection of a new pope. We propose an egalitarian, democratic way of being church. To that end, we inaugurate a completely new way of operating as church, namely, an open conclave. On the face of it, this is a contradiction of terms. But the keys, in our case, are not the kind that lock us in, but that open the many and varied doors of our religious community to hear and invite the participation of the many and varied people around the world who are its members. Join the open forum discussion on vision, ministry, theology, governance etc. at www.women-churchconvergence.org/conclave
Add your ideas. Let us think together about to structure the way in which we operate as a global Christ-centered, inclusive community. Let us create structures in which women and men are equals and partners in every aspect of the church's life. Imagine the papacy as a source of unity. Let us "dream" a new vision, rooted in the example of Jesus, for the Roman Catholic Church in our time.

Anonymous said...

Another poster asked if the common language this time would be English. The answer is no, as there are several Cardinals who do not speak English (or at least not sufficiently well to communicate well in that language), including e.g. Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan (and frequently mentioned as one of the "papabili"), who is said to speak only Italian.

On the other hand, the election of a Pope who does NOT speak Italian would probably be even more unexpected than the election of someone who ONLY speaks that language...

Ella Boulis said...

Great work this was very helpful with homework!!!!!

Jimmy Atkinson said...

Glad we could help, Ella.