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How is the next Pope selected?


Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he announced that he would resign from his position as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The process to select his successor is well underway, and news reports indicate that it officially starts today, March 12th. But how is it done, and should any of you bother to send your resume to the Vatican?

You’ve probably heard a lot about something called the “Conclave,” which literally means “with a key”. It refers to the placing of the electors in a locked room and refusing to release them until they have chosen someone as Pope.

Those who bear this responsibility constitute what is called the College of Cardinals (they have elected the Pope since 1179). They are a select group made up largely, but not exclusively, of bishops (a few distinguished theologians are included). All those in the College of Cardinals are chosen by the Pope (although only those under 80 years of age can vote). Needless to say, this means that the Pope has tremendous power to influence who will be chosen to succeed him by appointing as Cardinals, should he desire, only those who are of one mind with him on theological and moral issues. At last count, there are 115 Cardinals eligible to vote on Benedict’s successor.

The word “Cardinal” itself most likely is derived from the Latin “cardo” or hinge, and suggests the role of the Cardinal as a connection or hinge between the Pope and the church and world. They wear red as a symbol of their willingness to die and shed their blood for the church.

Since Benedict is still living, some of the normal procedures will not be followed. But if he were to die before leaving office, the person known as the “Camerlengo” (Italian for “chamberlain”) would call out his name three times to make sure he is dead (obviously this is merely traditional; if the Pope were in a coma he could hardly respond to his name being called out!). He then strikes the Pope’s forehead with a small silver hammer that bears the papal coat of arms. The hammer is then used to smash the papal insignia ring (apparently to prevent anyone from using it unlawfully).

During the Conclave all the Cardinals stay in a $20 million hotel on Vatican property known as “Casa Santa Marta”. There are no televisions, no radios, no newspapers, no telephones, and no internet allowed that might distract the Cardinals from the task at hand or that might allow them to communicate with those on the outside.

There is absolutely no recording allowed of anything that goes on and the Cardinals take a strict vow of secrecy. When the time comes to vote on a particular candidate, written ballots are used. It is standard practice for each Cardinal to disguise his handwriting so that no one may discover whether he has voted Yes or No. A two-thirds vote is necessary to win election.

If no one is elected after twelve days and thirty ballots, a simple majority of votes will win election.

After each round of ballots, they are meticulously burned. A special chemical is used depending on the outcome. If no one has received the necessary percentage of votes, a chemical creating black smoke is used. If a Pope is elected, a chemical producing white smoke is employed.

The candidate receiving this vote then declares “Accepto”, or “I accept”. The choice of his new name often is designed to signal the direction of his papacy and what he hopes will be the emphasis of his time in power.

Upon election of the new Pope, the words are proclaimed: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus papam!” Or, “I announce to you news of great joy. We have a Pope!”

And there you have it.

Oh, and what all this means is that No, you shouldn’t waste your time by sending your resume to the Vatican!


We are so tuned into modern technology we overlook the simple things. Does the 20 million dollar facility have the means to prevent courier pigeons on the property? Praying the Pope that stepped down did so because he had an encounter with the living son of God. And it left him saying, "I am unworthy".

Bang bang, Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon his head!
I've heard that Beatles song is loosely based on this process. Except Maxwell is killing people. Making a statement maybe? Coincidence?

Interesting stuff!

All of this work to come up with another guy that will continue to keep millions upon millions in the religious/spirituality ascendancy game.

It'd be nice to be surprised with a Pope who trusted in the finished work of Christ and the freedom He has given us from all those 'religious' projects.


I like it, but I see now there is no point in me applying!

Thanks for this post Sam! A most helpful explanation for something I never quite understood. I wonder if there will ever be a church scandal involving an iPhone in the Conclave? Ha ha

So excited for this new blog! Keep up the good work

Are you familiar with the book Petrus Romanus by Tom Horn and if so would you care to comment on his claim that the next Pope may be the last Pope according to the so-called St. Malachy's prophecy?

Looking forward to reading you blogs, Sam. Psalm 115:1

Hi Sam,
I like your new website. If you have time, could you please comment on my latest blog at http://oh4grace.blogspot.com. Title of the blog is "The Unsnatchables". Thanks.

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