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Conclave, cardinals, ballots — What happens next at the Vatican?


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Q: Who counts the ballots?

A: The conclave features elaborate voting and vote-counting procedures to prevent fraud. Cardinals are selected by lot to count and double-count the ballots and collect votes from sick cardinals.

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Q: How does a cardinal become pope once he is elected?

A: Simply by answering "I accept" to the question, "Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?" (In the unlikely event that the new pope is not already a bishop, he must first be consecrated a bishop by the cardinals.)

Q: Can a pope refuse his election?

A: Technically, yes, although it has been centuries since any cardinal has done so. In 1271, St. Philip Benizi fled the conclave and hid until another man was elected. St. Charles Borromeo declined election in the 16th century, and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine did the same in the 17th century.

Q: How does a pope choose his papal name?

A: Simply put, he takes whatever name he chooses. There is no law that mandates a new name, but the practice has been standard for about the last 1,000 years. Some honor a favorite saint or a beloved pope. Others honor their predecessors — John Paul II followed John Paul I, who succeeded Paul VI and John XXIII, while Benedict drew on a long church tradition: the last pope to choose this name, Benedict XV, reigned from 1914 to 1922. The only name that is sacrosanct is Peter, the first pope.

Q: What does the white smoke mean?

A: Ballots are burned in a special stove, whose chimney is visible to onlookers in St. Peter’s Square. Black smoke means there is no winner; white smoke means a new pope has been elected. The only record of the voting is a document prepared at the end of the election. It is given to the new pope and placed in a sealed envelope in the archives, only to be opened with papal permission.


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Q: How does the world know a new pope is elected?

A: After white smoke swirls up for the chimney, a senior cardinal will announce from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus papam" — "I announce to you news of great joy. We have a pope."

Q: What is the new pope’s first official act?

A: By tradition, after changing into his white papal vestments, the pope delivers his first "urbi et orbi" blessing to the city of Rome and the world.

Q: What are the official ceremonies following the election?

A: About a week after his election, the new pope will celebrate his installation Mass inside St. Peter’s. The new pope will also take possession of his cathedral, St. John Lateran, as bishop of Rome.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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