Electing a pope: rules of the conclave

Cardinals meet to elect new pope

VATICAN CITY - Under intense secrecy, cardinals in the Catholic Church will meet to select a new pope.

During the process, cardinals are totally cut off from the outside world, and they do not have access to television, telephones, newspapers, cell phones, or computers.

They sleep and eat in the Santa Marta house, located inside the Vatican's walls. Aside from the cardinals, only about seventy other people are allowed inside, including doctors, cooks, and housekeepers.

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Only cardinals who are under the age of eighty at the time of the pope's death, or retirement, can vote for a new pope.

For more than a thousand years, a new Pope has been elected from a pool of cardinals. Technically speaking, any unmarried, male Catholic is eligible.

For the past 100 years, papal election have been held in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

The ballots are secret and a two thirds majority is needed. Until one candidate meets that requirement, four votes are cast each day, two in the morning two in the afternoon. That number may vary.

Cardinals write their selection down on a rectangular sheet of paper. In order of seniority, each cardinal takes that paper up to the front of the chapel where he recites a brief oath. The ballots are shaken together to ensure anonymity. They are taken out one by one and read aloud so that each cardinal keep his own tally.

In the old days, when no Pope was elected, the ballots were burned with wet straw to produce black smoke. In Italian, black smoke is called Fumata Nera. Today, different chemical pellets are used to produce smoke. When a pope is elected, white smoke is released. In Italian, it is called Fumata Bianca.

The smoke signals usually come out twice a day: morning and afternoon.

If after about twelve days there's still no pope, the cardinals can choose to change the balloting so that only a simple majority is needed to elect the new pope.

When the votes do tally up for one man he is asked by the dean of the cardinals if he will accept the position. He is also asked by what name he wishes to be called.

After a Pope is named, the cardinal deacon announces "Habemus Papam" to the crowds outside. That  is Latin for "we have a pope!"

The new pope appears and gives his first message to the world.

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