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Succeeding Benedict XVI: How the new pope will be elected

Last updated on: March 4, 2013 08:24 IST

Succeeding Benedict XVI: How the new pope will be elected

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The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI will set in motion preparations to elect a new pope. Pope Benedict XVI, who decided to step down citing failing health, will on Thursday become the first pope in some six centuries to resign instead of ruling for life.  

While speculation is rife over who will succeed Pope Benedict, there are several elaborate rites and traditions involved when electing a new pope.

Rediff.com takes you through the election process.

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Image: A technician works on a structure set up for TV media in front of St. Peter's Square in Rome. Pope Benedict will keep the honorific title of 'His Holiness' after he abdicates this week and will be known as 'pope emeritus', the Vatican said.
Photographs: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
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Secret ballot

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The election of a pope has always been a right reserved exclusively to the College of Cardinals meeting in conclave. The cardinals usually meet in Rome 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope, or as in the present case, after the resignation of a pope, to select a successor from among themselves in a secret ballot.

The election almost always takes place in the Sistine Chapel. Three cardinals are chosen by lot to collect the votes of absent cardinal electors, three are chosen by lot to count the votes, and three are chosen by lot to review the count of the votes. The ballots are distributed and each cardinal elector writes the name of his choice on it before folding and depositing his vote on a plate atop a large chalice placed on the altar.

Before being read, the ballots are counted while still folded; if the number of ballots does not match the number of electors, the ballots are burned unopened and a new vote is held. Otherwise, each ballot is read aloud by the presiding cardinal, who pierces the ballot with a needle and thread, stringing all the ballots together and tying the ends of the thread to ensure accuracy and honesty. Balloting continues until someone is elected by a two-thirds majority.

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Image: Pope Benedict XVI conduct Vespers in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
Photographs: Osservatore Romano/Pool /Reuters
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Announcing it to the world

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For the whole duration of the election, the cardinal electors are required to refrain from written correspondence and from all conversations with persons who have not been duly admitted to the buildings set aside for their use.

 

After the votes have been cast, they are counted, and if one person has received 2/3rd of the vote, the election is complete. If not, the balloting continues later in the day. Once the ballots are counted and bound together, they are burned in a special stove erected in the Sistine Chapel, with the smoke escaping through a small chimney visible from St Peter's Square. The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound to create black smoke.

 

Once a new pope has been elected, the dean of the College of Cardinals asks two solemn questions. First he asks, 'Do you freely accept your election?' If he replies with the word "Accepto", his reign begins at that instant. The dean then asks, "By what name shall you be called?" The new pope then announces the regnal name he has chosen.

 

The new pope is then led through the 'Door of Tears' to a dressing room. Donning the appropriate white papal vestments and reemerging into the Sistine Chapel, the new pope is given the 'Fisherman's Ring' by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, whom he first either reconfirms or reappoints. The pope then assumes a place of honor as the rest of the cardinals wait in turn to offer their first 'obedience' and to receive his blessing.

 

The senior cardinal deacon then announces from a balcony over St Peter's Square the following proclamation: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Papam! (I announce to you a great joy! We have a pope!). He then announces the new pope's Christian name along with his newly chosen regnal name.


Image: Pope Benedict XVI leads his last Angelus prayer before stepping down in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican
Photographs: Osservatore Romano/Reuters
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