Expert Answer Forum
Election of a Pope QUESTION from Patrick December 15, 1999 I have a few questions:
It is my understanding that when electing a new Pope, if the conclave does not reach a 2/3 majority vote they burn the ballots and that creates the black smoke. Do they only vote once a day? Is there a list of Popes to choose from to vote for or can they really vote for any Catholic male? Is there a time limit on how many days they can take? Can an elected Pope refuse the position? Who ordaines this new Pope?
Thank you for you time. Patrick
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on December 19, 1999 Dear Mr. Patrick:
The subject of papal elections and what goes on in the secret conclave is one of the most fascinating topics around. The best source of many of the details that go into this is from the book, Pontiff by professional journalists Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. Please do not rely upon National Enquirer-style hacks such as Malachi Martin for anything accurate about the goings on at the Vatican.
From the moment the Pope dies, the Secretary of State, I believe, becomes the camerlengo. He, with the College of Cardinal will run the church until the next Pope is elected.
The Camerlengo supervises all aspects of what goes on from the death of the pope to the election of the next pope. He is involved in the funeral arrangements to the preparing for the conclave and all that goes into that.
But his first duty is to perform a ritual at the deathbed of the Pope. A ritual that goes back to the Middle Ages is to take a silver hammer and lightly tap on the pope's head. Then in a strong voice call out to the Pope in his baptism name. For example, for Pope Paul VI, the Camerlengo would tap the pope on the head and then say, Giovannit Daltista Enrico Antonio Marie, are you dead?
This is repeated two more times.
Upon the third tap and call to the pope, if the pope does not answer, it is proclaimed, Pope N. is truly dead!
The Fisherman's Ring is immediately removed from the Pope's finger. In the presence of the Cardinals the ring and the papal seals are broken.
After the funeral and as the Sistine Chapel is being prepared security is tight. Electonic sweeps of the conclave area are made repeatedly to be sure there are no listening devices installed.
When all is ready, the Cardinals are locked in and remain in the chapel and its ajoinging cells (bedrooms) for the duration. This is usually between 15 and 20 days after the death of the Pope.
Ballots are taken usually two in the morning and two in the afternoon, day after day, until such time as someone received a 2/3 + 1 majority vote -- no matter how long it takes. In exceptional circumstances other rules may apply as are voted upon byu unanimous consent.
I have heard stories where in the middle ages the conclave would drag on and on, perhaps because northern bishops like the warmth of the south. To encourage them to make a decision, food would be deprived them and in one case, people would dump water down on them from the roof to make them as miserable as possible.
Anyway, they stay until someone is elected. Ballots are usually taken four times a day. Each set of ballots are burned in such a way as to produce black smoke for a failed ballot, and white smoke for an election. At the moment I can't think of how they produce the black or white smoke. It is something simple, but I can't rememeber what it is at the moment.
The person elected must accept the election. He doesn't have to accept it.
If the person elected is already a bishop he immediately becomes Bishop of Rome and pope. He indicates by what name he will be called and then each cardinal must come up and pledge obedience to him. Then the world is told who the new Pope is.
If the candidate is not a bishop, then he is consecrated a bishop before receiving the pledge of obedience and being declared pope.
If I remember correcly there was a Pope who was a layman. He was ordained a deacon, priest, bishop, in short order and then declared Pope.
But no one ordains the Pope. If the man is not a bishop he will be ordained a bishop, which is validly done by another bishop. But ordination to the papacy is different. There is no one above the Pope to do the ordaining, no authority to confirm the election. The Pope becomes pope canonically by virtue of accepting the legitimate election.
The weird people, who I truly believe need psychiatric help, who think the Chair of Peter is empty, are just plain off their rocker. In order for Pope John Paul II to not be the pope his election would have had to be illegitimate. How was his election not legitimate? They cannot establish that. They make this claim merely because they don't like him. Well too bad. A legal vote constitutes a legal election. Period. But to these sedevacantist, well, they are in their own little world -- a world in which they have lost their faith in the promises of God to protect the Church and the Chair of Peter.
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