Procedure for the conclave

Source: FSSPX News


The course of the conclave is described with precision by the Apostolic Constitution Universi dominici gregis, promulgated by John Paul II on February 22 1996. On the morning of the day fixed for the start of the election, April 18, the cardinals will assemble in St. Peter’s Basilica for a Solemn Mass celebrated for the intention of the conclave. In the afternoon they will put on their vestments once more and walk in procession to the Sistine Chapel, singing the Veni Creator . They will be accompanied by several clergy, including the secretary of the College of Cardinals, who is also the secretary of the Congregation of the Bishops, the Italian Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, two pontifical Masters of Ceremony and the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Mgr. Piero Marini.

 In the Sistine Chapel, the Dean of the College, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will read aloud the form of the oath which all the cardinals must take and through which they promise total secrecy on the election, to prevent all exterior interference in the process, and if they are elected to faithfully carry out the duties of “pastor of the Universal Church”. The Cardinals then solemnly ratify this oath, with their hand on the Gospel, one by one in order of precedence. The pontifical Masters of Ceremony will then distribute two or three voting slips, rectangular pieces of paper bearing the printed words: Eligo in Summum Pontificem followed by a blank space where they will write their choice. Finally in the presence only of the Master of Ceremonies of Liturgical Celebrations, one of the clergy chosen in advance will ask the cardinals to meditate on the gravity and the import of the election. He will then in his turn leave with Mgr. Marini.

 Once the doors of the Sistine Capel have been closed by the last of the cardinal deacons, the electors will begin by casting lots for nine of them, in order to choose three scrutineers responsible for counting the votes, three delegates – the infirmarii charged with collecting the votes of any cardinals who may be indisposed and unable to leave their rooms – and finally three checkers, charged with verifying the work of the scrutineers. The latter will stand near the Chapel’s altar underneath the fresco of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement.

 All the Cardinals will write by hand whom they wish to vote for, taking care to disguise their handwriting. Folding and refolding their voting slips they will then go to the altar one by one with hand raised, again in order of precedence. “I call upon Christ the Lord  who will judge me that I give my vote to him, whom before God, I think should be elected”, they then say aloud. Then they slip their voting paper, with the help of a salver, into the urn placed on the altar, before bowing in front of the altar and going back to their place. If there are any cardinals confined by illness to their room, the three infirmiarii, who will have been amongst the first to have voted, will go to them, with voting papers and an empty locked box, with a slot, in order to collect their votes. On their return, the box will be opened by the scrutineers, who will place these votes in the urn.

 When all the cardinals have voted, one of the scrutineers will shake the urn several times in order to mix up the voting slips, and another will undertake to count them, conspicuously taking each one of the voting papers in order to place them in an empty vessel prepared for this purpose. Seated at a table placed in front of the altar, the three scrutineers will pass each paper, one to another, the third one being charged with reading aloud, the names and noting them as they go. At the same time they perforate the voting slips with a needle and thread, threading them one after another so that none of them is lost. At the end of the count, the scrutineers count the votes obtained and note the results on a separate sheet of paper, then the cardinal checkers will come and verify the papers as well as the results of the vote.

 The two-thirds of the votes of the Cardinals present at the conclave are necessary to elect the pope, with a supplementary vote in the case where their number is not divisible by three. With 115 electors present, 77 votes would therefore be necessary for the election of the next pope. As long as the required number of votes is not reached, the cardinals meet twice a day to take each time two ballots. At the end of each half day, before they leave the Sistine Chapel, the voting papers and their possible notes are burned on the spot by the scrutineers, with the help of the Secretary of the college of Cardinals and the Masters of Ceremonies. The smoke of the fire which consumes them, blackened by a particular chemical substance, will indicate to outside observers that the pope has not yet been elected.

 In the constitution  Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II  decreed that after three days of voting without result, a day should be consecrated to prayer and free discussions between the electors. The Cardinals would then vote seven times without interruption. However, after three breaks of this kind, that is after around twelve days of conclave, if the last seven ballots still do not give a decisive result, the Cardinals must decide with an absolute majority to change the procedure. Two solutions are presented to them: to choose an absolute majority vote of the ballots, or else to take the decision to vote on two names only, the two who have obtained the highest number of votes at the preceding ballot.

 When the pope is finally elected, the last of the cardinal deacons will call into the Sistine Chapel, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Ceremonies of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the name of all the College, asks officially if the elected Cardinal accepts the charge and what name he has chosen. After the latter’s response, the last voting papers burned will this time produce a white smoke, indicating the closure of the conclave. The Vatican has announced that for the election of the successor of John Paul II, in addition to the white smoke, the bells will be rung.

 While the crowds are gathering in St. Peter’s Square, the new pope will put on his papal vestments, three white cassocks of different sizes have been prepared in the “Crying Room”. He will receive a stole  bearing the images of the apostles Peter and Paul, which the pope wears on this occasion only.

 The Cardinals then pay homage to the new pontiff one by one, promising obedience to him. Then the first of the Cardinal Deacons, the Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, goes to the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica, and announces to everyone the name of the new pope: Habemus papam dominum cardinalem…, qui sibi nomen imposuit…, before the latter appears in his turn to give his first apostolic blessing Urbi et Orbi.