A papal conclave is the process by which the Roman Catholic Church elects a new Bishop of Rome (Pope) at a time when the Holy See is vacant (usually due to the death of the previous office holder). While previous conclaves have been held at various locales in Rome, they are now exclusively held at the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.
In the early centuries of Christianity, the bishop of Rome (like other bishops) was chosen by the consensus of the local clergy and people of the area. The electorate remained a relatively undefined body until 1059, when a papal bull decreed that the College of Cardinals was the sole body of electors. Since then, the process has become increasing involved and juridical, with a formalization of the electorate, voting procedures, and viable candidates. The most current procedural document, which exclusively defines the procedures for all conclaves (until being overruled by a newer apostolic constitution), was established by Pope John Paul II in his constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.
The procedures relating to the election of the Pope have undergone almost two millennia of gradual, evolutionary change. More specifically, these processes have, over time, become increasingly juridical, with their gravity and complexity growing in tandem with changes in the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of the papacy. In the earliest days of the church, selection of bishops (and thus selection of popes (as the pope is, first and foremost, the bishop of Rome)) was the dominion of the local clergy and laity. Over time, the ecclesiastical elites began to exert growing influence on the proceedings, to the point that the initial populism became lost. Eventually, explicit conclave procedures similar to the present system (which centers around the election of the new pope by a council of cardinals) were introduced in 1274 with the Second Council of Lyons after the three-year interregnum of 1268-1271.
The earliest bishops appear to have been chosen for a Christian community by the apostles (and their immediate successors). As Christianity became more fully established, church authorities ceased selecting bishops via these ad hoc appointments and chose instead to consult with the clergy and laity of the community in question, often with the assistance of the bishops of neighboring dioceses. The selection of the pope, at least initially, followed a similar process. Saint Cyprian says that Pope Cornelius (r. 251-253 C.E.) was chosen Bishop of Rome "by the decree of God and of His Church, by the testimony of nearly all the clergy, by the college of aged bishops [sacerdotum], and of good men." In this way, the clergy of the Roman diocese was the electoral body for the bishop of Rome, but, unlike later conclave procedures, they did not cast votes, instead selecting the bishop by general consensus or by acclamation. The candidate would then be submitted to the people for their general approval or disapproval. While this process assured public support, it did not guarantee consensus - which occasionally led to the rise to rival popes (or even antipopes). To avoid the threat of factionalism, the Roman Emperor sometimes found it necessary to officially confirm these selections.
A major change was introduced into this system in 1059, when Nicholas II omitted the requirement that the cardinals consult with the local clergy and laity before electing a candidate. This ruling was affirmed at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. In addition, Pope Nicholas also denied the need for imperial confirmation of the appointment. As the importance of the cardinals in the selection of a new pope became unilateral, the Church began to define (and redefine) those members of the clergy who were eligible to participate in this process.
In the early days of papal conclaves, it was difficult to ensure the involvement of many eligible cardinals. One major cause of this paucity were the difficulties and dangers associated with travel, which greatly reduced the number willing to travel to the Vatican to take part in the council. In fact, through much of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the college of cardinals had fewer than thirty members (reaching an all-time low of seven members under Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261)). With such a small electorate, an individual vote was highly significant - especially given that there were no guarantees that the appointed cardinals were non-partisan.
These difficulties motivated Sixtus V to fix the number of cardinals to 70: six Cardinal Bishops, 50 Cardinal Priests, and 14 Cardinal Deacons. This number has further increased in recent years, beginning with John XXIII's attempts to broaden the backgrounds of the cardinal electorate. In 1970, Paul VI increased the number of active cardinal electors to 120, though he also decreed that cardinals over the age of 80 were ineligible to vote in the conclave. Though this remains the theoretical limit, John Paul II exceeded this for short periods of time with knowledge of impending retirements. John Paul II also specified that cardinals that were under eighty on the day that the Holy See became vacant would be promised a vote, regardless of whether they turned eighty before the conclave began.
Just as the definition and composition of the college of cardinals developed over time, so too did the understanding of the person who was qualified to rule the Holy See. Originally, lay status did not bar election to the papacy: as bishops of dioceses were sometimes elected while still catechumens This ruling was overturned in 769, in the wake of the violent dispute over the election of antipope Constantine II, when Pope Stephen III held a synod which ruled that the entire clergy of Rome had a right to vote for the bishop of Rome, but that only a "cardinal priest" or "cardinal deacon" could be elected to the office.  However, it was not until 1059 that these restrictions in the selection of possible candidates came to be common practice.
This ruling was challenged in 1179, when the Third Council of the Lateran reversed earlier requirements, once more allowing any Catholic man to be elected by the cardinals. However, this has remained an entirely uncommon practice: for example, Urban VI (1378) was the last Pope elected from outside the college of cardinals.
Though the Pope's primary title is "Bishop of Rome," he need not be of an Italian background. Prior to the reign of Adrian VI (himself a native of the Netherlands who was elected in 1522), popes came from a wide variety of geographic areas and linguistic groups. However, from the time of Clement VII (r. 1523-1534) to John Paul I (r. 1978), all elected popes were from areas that are now part of Italy. This four-hundred-year monopoly of the Holy See was broken in the last thirty years, as both Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI were not Italian (being Polish and German, respectively).
Thus, any baptised male Catholic (except a heretic or schismatic) can be elected to the papacy by the College of Cardinals. As implicitly stated in this definition, women are pointedly excluded, as the Catholic Church holds that women cannot be validly ordained in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Electors formerly made choices by three methods: by acclamation, by compromise, and by scrutiny. When voting by acclamation, the cardinals would unanimously declare the new Pope quasi afflati Spiritu Sancto (as if inspired by the Holy Spirit). When voting by compromise, the deadlocked College of Cardinals would select a committee of cardinals to conduct an election. When voting by scrutiny, the electors cast secret ballots. Despite their theoretical usability, scrutiny remains the only selection scheme that is used with any frequency, as the last election by compromise was that of John XXII (1316), and the last election by acclamation was that of Gregory XV (1621). In recent years, new rules introduced by John Paul II have formally abolished these long-unused systems, meaning that now, election is always by ballot.
When voting on the new pope, a simple majority was thought to suffice until 1179, when the Third Lateran Council increased the required majority to two-thirds. Further, this council stated that cardinals were not allowed to vote for themselves, which led to the establishment of an elaborate voting procedure to ensure secrecy while at the same time preventing cardinals from voting for themselves. This procedural ruling has held (with only minor adjustments) into the present day. 
Prior to 1621, the only oath taken (as part of the voting procedures) was that of obedience to the rules of the conclave in force at that time. Gregory XV added the additional oath taken at the onset of each morning voting session and each afternoon voting session, to prevent cardinals wasting time in casting "courtesy votes" instead narrowing the number of realistic candidates for the papal throne to perhaps only two or three. Speed in electing a pope was important, and that meant using an oath so as to get the cardinals to focus on the serious business of electing a new pope. The reforms of Gregory XV in 1621 and 1622 created the detailed step-by-step procedure that is essentially the same as that which was used in 2005 to elect Benedict XVI. The elimination of the rule that required the electors to sign their ballots resulted in a detailed voting procedure making use of anonymous oaths.
As the Catholic Church was—and is—a potent geo-political entity, it has (fairly routinely) been influenced in the choice of its leaders by powerful monarchs and governments. The Church often relied upon the Roman Empire to resolve electoral disuptes. After the demise of the Western Roman Empire, this jurisdiction passed to the Ostrogothic Kings of Italy, whose right to ratify papal elections was formally recognized by John II in 532. This acknowledgment was short-lived, however, as the end of the 530s, the Ostrogothic monarchy was overthrown, and power passed to the Byzantine Emperors. At this point, a procedure was adopted whereby officials were required to notify the Byzantine Emperor upon the death of a Pope before proceeding to the election. Further, once the electors arrived at a choice, they were required to send a delegation back to Constantinople requesting imperial consent, which was understood as a necessary precursor to the newly-elected individual taking office. The overall inefficiency of this process led to its gradual dissolution under Benedict II (r. 684–685) and Zachary I (r. 741-752), likely due to the ever-widening gap between Eastern and Western Christianity.
In the ninth century, the newly-formed Holy Roman Empire (which was German, not Italian) came to extend its influence over the elections of Popes. While the first two Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne and Louis, did not interfere with the Church, Lothar claimed that an election could not be conducted except in the presence of imperial ambassadors. This invocation of dependency was publicly proven in 898, when riots forced John IX to recognize the superintendence of the Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1059, the same papal bull that restricted suffrage to the cardinals also recognized the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, but only as a "concession" made by the Pope, thus establishing that the Holy Roman Emperor had no authority to intervene in elections except where permitted to do so by papal agreements. Gregory VII was the last to submit to the interference of the Holy Roman Emperors; the breach between him and the Holy Roman Empire caused by the Investiture Controversy led to the abolition of the Emperor's role. In 1119, the Holy Roman Empire acceded to the Concordat of Worms, accepting the papal decision.
The last overt element of secular influence (which was finally eliminated in 1903) was the provision that certain Catholic nations were allowed to exercise the so-called "right of exclusion" or "veto" during papal conclaves. By an informal convention, each nation was allowed to veto not more than one papal candidate, with this decision being relayed to the conclave by one of the assembled cardinals. The power of exclusion was, by the same custom, only exercisable by any nation once. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria (its successor state) was the last nation to exercise this power, which occured in 1903, when Cardinal Puzyna de Kosielsko informed the College of Cardinals that Austria opposed the election of Mariano Cardinal Rampolla. Consequently, the College chose Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto with 55 votes. One of Cardinal Sarto's first acts as pope was to abolish the right of the veto, declaring that any cardinal who communicated his government's veto would suffer excommunication from the Church.
A final element in the development of modern papal conclaves was the formal codification of conclave procedures, necessitated by problems and inefficiencies in the electoral process. In earlier years, papal elections sometimes suffered prolonged deadlocks. To resolve them, authorities often resorted to the forced seclusion of the cardinal electors, the institution of enforced fasts, and even confinement of the cardinals out of doors.
To reduce further delays, Gregory X introduced stringent rules relating to the election procedures. Cardinals were to be secluded in a closed area; they were not even accorded separate rooms. No cardinal was allowed to be attended by more than one servant unless ill. Food was to be supplied through a window; after three days of the meeting, the cardinals were to receive only one dish a day; after five days, they were to receive just bread and water. During the conclave, no cardinal was to receive any ecclesiastical revenue.Though these strict rules were contested by the cardinals (and even overturned briefly), they were formally written into canon law by Pope Celestine V in 1294.
After that point, changes to conclave structure and organization have been fairly minor. In 1562, Pius IV issued a papal bull that introduced regulations relating to the secrecy of the ballots and other procedural matters. Gregory XV issued two bulls that covered the most minute of details relating to the election; the first, issued in 1621, concerned electoral processes, while the other bull, issued in 1622, fixed the ceremonies to be observed. In 1904, Pius X issued a constitution consolidating almost all of the previous ones, making some revamps. Several additional reforms were instituted by John Paul II in 1996. Finally, popes have often written "election constitutions" fine-tuning the rules for the election of their successors: Pope Pius XII's Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis of 1945 governed the conclave of 1958, Pope John XXIII's Summi Pontificis Electio of 1962 that of 1963, Pope Paul VI's Romano Pontifici Eligendo of 1975 those of 1978, and John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis of 1996 that of 2005.
Though the location of the conclaves was not fixed by fiat until the fourteenth century, elections have always been held in Rome, and normally in the Vatican City (which has, since the Lateran treaties of 1929, been recognised as an independent state). Within Rome and the Vatican City, different locations have been used as sites for the conclave. Since 1846, which marked the final use of the Quirinal Palace, the Sistine Chapel has always served as the location of the election.
In 1996, John Paul II promulgated a new Apostolic Constitution, called Universi Dominici Gregis (Latin: "The Lord's Whole Flock"), which, unless superseded by later regulations, now governs the election of the Pope's successor. Though this document is the sole constitution governing the election, abrogating all constitutions previously issued by Popes, it outlines many procedures that can be dated to much earlier times. One major change to previous practice is that the cardinals are to be lodged in a purpose-built edifice, the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ, but are to continue to vote in the Sistine Chapel.
Since the College of Cardinals is a small body, some have suggested that the electorate should be expanded. Proposed reforms include a plan to replace the College of Cardinals as the electoral body with the Synod of Bishops, which includes many more members. Under present procedure, however, the Synod may only meet while called by the Pope. Universi Dominici Gregis explicitly provides that even if a Synod or ecumenical council is in session at the time of a Pope's death, it may not perform the election. Upon the Pope's death, either body's proceedings are suspended, to be resumed only upon the order of the new Pope.
The death of the Pope is verified by the Cardinal Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, who traditionally performed the task by gently striking the Pope's head with a small silver hammer and calling out his Christian (not papal) name three times. During the twentieth century the use of the hammer in this ritual has been abandoned, as under Universi Dominici Gregis, the Camerlengo must merely declare the Pope's death by calling him three times by his Christian name in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and of the Cleric Prelates, Secretary and Chancellor of the Apostolic Camera. Once this solemn duty is performed, the Cardinal Camerlengo then takes possession of both the Fisherman's Ring worn by the Pope, and the papal seal, and destroys them before the College of Cardinals. The tradition originated to avoid forgery of documents, but today merely is a symbol of the end of the pope's reign.
During the sede vacante, as the papal vacancy is known, certain limited powers pass to the College of Cardinals, which is convoked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals. All cardinals are obliged to attend the General Congregation of Cardinals, except those whose health does not permit, or who are over 80 who choose not to attend. The Particular Congregation, which deals with the day-to-day matters of the Church, includes the Cardinal Camerlengo and the three Cardinal Assistants—one Cardinal Bishop, one Cardinal Priest and one Cardinal Deacon—chosen by lot. Every three days, new Cardinal Assistants are chosen by lot. The Cardinal Camerlengo and Cardinal Assistants are responsible, among other things, for maintaining the election's secrecy.
The Congregations must make certain arrangements in respect of the Pope's burial, which by tradition takes place from four to six days of the Pope's death, leaving time for pilgrims to see the deceased pontiff, and is to be followed by a nine-day period of mourning known as the novemdiales, Latin for "nine days"). The Congregations fix the date and time of the commencement of the conclave, which normally takes place 15 days after the death of the Pope, but may extend to a maximum of 20 days to permit other cardinals to arrive in the Vatican City.
The cardinals hear two sermons before the election process begins: one before actually entering the conclave, and one once they are settled in the Sistine Chapel. Both sermons lay out the current state of the Church, and suggest the qualities necessary for a pope to possess at that specific time.
On the morning of the day designated by the Congregations of Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble in Saint Peter's Basilica to celebrate a Eucharistic mass. Then, they gather in the afternoon in the Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican, proceeding to the Sistine Chapel while singing the Veni Creator Spiritus. The Cardinals then take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitutions; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting. The Cardinal Dean reads the oath aloud in full; in order of precedence, the other cardinal electors merely state, while touching the Gospels, that they "do so promise, pledge and swear."
After all have taken the oath, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations orders all individuals other than the cardinals and conclave participants to leave the Chapel—traditionally, he stands at the door of the Sistine Chapel and calls out or states "Extra omnes," Latin for, roughly, "Everybody else, out!" He then closes the door. The Master himself may remain, as may one ecclesiastic designated by the Congregations prior to the commencement of the conclave. This ecclesiastic opens the proceedings by making a speech concerning the problems facing the Church and the requisite qualities of the new Pope, then he leaves. Following the recitation of prayers, the Cardinal Dean asks if any doubts relating to procedure remain. After the clarification of the doubts, the election may commence. Once the process begins, rather stringent requirements exist for all members concerning their freedom of movement; while a cardinal who is unwell may leave the conclave and later be readmitted, a cardinal who leaves for any reason other than illness may thereafter be barred from returning to the meeting.
Each cardinal elector may be accompanied by two attendants or conclavists (three if the cardinal elector is ill). The Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, two Masters of Ceremonies, two officers of the Papal Sacristy and an ecclesiastic assisting the Dean of the College of Cardinals are also admitted to the conclave. Priests are available to hear confessions in different languages; two doctors are also admitted. Finally, a strictly limited number of servant staff are permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals.
One of the founding principles of the conclave is the carefully guarded secrecy of the proceedings. The cardinals, as well as the conclavists and staff, are not permitted to disclose any information relating to the election to anyone. Specifically, Cardinal electors may not correspond or converse with anyone outside the conclave, whether by post, radio, telephone or otherwise. Likewise, eavesdropping is seen as an offense punishable by excommunication latae sententiae. The procedures set out by John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis also specifically prohibit any interaction with media, such as newspapers, the radio, and television, and any interference from those media outlets.
On the afternoon of the first day, one ballot may be held. If a ballot take place on the afternoon of the first day and no-one is elected, or no ballot had taken place, four ballots are held on each successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. If no result is obtained after three days of balloting, the process is suspended for a maximum of one day for prayer and an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon. After seven further ballots, the process may again be similarly suspended, with the address now being delivered by the senior Cardinal Priest. If, after another seven ballots, no result is achieved, voting is suspended once more, the address being delivered by the senior Cardinal Bishop. After a further seven ballots, the cardinal electors may decide by an absolute majority, to advise and change the election rules. This includes the possibility of eliminating all candidates except the two who have received the greatest number of votes in the previous ballot and reducing the majority require for an election. However, there can be no waiving of the requirement that a valid election takes place only by an absolute majority of the votes.
The process of voting comprises three phases: the "pre-scrutiny," the "scrutiny," and the "post-scrutiny." During the pre-scrutiny, the Masters of the Ceremonies prepare ballot papers bearing the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem ("I elect as Supreme Pontiff") and provide at least two to each cardinal elector. As the cardinals begin to write down their votes, the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and the Masters of Ceremonies exit; the junior Cardinal Deacon then closes the door. The junior Cardinal Deacon then draws by lot nine names; the first three become Scrutineers, the second three Infirmarii and the last three Revisers. New Scrutineers, Infirmarii and Revisers are not selected again after the first ballot.
Then the scrutiny phase of the election commences. The cardinal electors proceed, in order of precedence, to take their completed ballots (which bear only the name of the individual voted for) to the altar, where the Scrutineers stand. Before casting the ballot, each cardinal elector takes a Latin oath, which translates to: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected." If any cardinal elector is in the Chapel, but cannot proceed to the altar due to infirmity, the last Scrutineer may go to him and take his ballot after the oath is recited. If any cardinal elector is by reason of infirmity confined to his room, the Infirmarii go to their rooms with ballot papers and a box. Any such sick cardinals take the oath and then complete the ballot papers. When the Infirmarii return to the Chapel, the ballots are counted to ensure that their number matches with the number of ill cardinals; thereafter, they are deposited in the appropriate receptacle. This oath is taken by all cardinals only at the first vote of each two-vote voting session. One two-vote voting session is held in the morning and another in the afternoon. The oath is therefore anonymous, since the name of the elector is no longer signed on the ballot with that of the candidate.
Once all votes have been cast, the first Scrutineer chosen shakes the container, and the last Scrutineer removes and counts the ballots. If the number of ballots does not correspond to the number of cardinal electors present, the ballots are burnt, unread, and the vote is repeated. If, however, no irregularities are observed, the ballots may be opened and the votes counted. Each ballot is unfolded by the first Scrutineer; all three Scrutineers separately write down the name indicated on the ballot. The last of the Scrutineers reads the name aloud.
Once all of the ballots have been opened, the final post-scrutiny phase begins. The Scrutineers add up all of the votes, and the Revisers check the ballots and the names on the Scrutineers' lists to ensure that no error was made. The ballots are then all burnt by the Scrutineers with the assistance of the Secretary of the College and the Masters of Ceremonies. If the first election held in any given morning or afternoon does not result in an election, the cardinals proceed to the next vote immediately; the papers from both ballots are burnt together at the end of the second vote. The colour of the smoke signals the results to the people assembled in Saint Peter's Square. Dark smoke signals that the ballot did not result in an election, while white smoke signals that a new Pope was chosen. Originally, damp straw was added to the fire to create dark smoke; since 1958 chemicals have been used, and, since 2005, bells have been rung after a successful election in case the white smoke is not unambiguously white.
Once the election concludes, the junior Cardinal Deacon summons the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations into the hall. The Cardinal Dean then asks the Pope-elect if he assents to the election ("Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?"). If he does, and is already a bishop, he immediately takes office. If he is not a bishop, however, he must be first ordained as one before he can assume office. If a priest is elected, the Cardinal Dean ordains him bishop; if a layman is elected, then the Cardinal Dean first ordains him deacon, then priest, and only then bishop. Only after becoming a bishop does the Pope-elect take office.
Following a precedent set in 533, the new Pope then has to decide on a new pontifical name. After the papal name is chosen, the officials are readmitted to the conclave, and the Master of Pontifical Liturgical writes a document recording the acceptance and the new name of the Pope.
Later, the new Pope goes to the "Room of Tears," a small red room next to the Sistine Chapel. The origin of the name is uncertain, but seems to imply the admixture of joy and trepidation felt by the newly chosen holder of the monumental office. The Pope dresses by himself, choosing a set of pontifical choir robes (white cassock, rochet and mozzetta) and vests himself in a gold-corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. Finally, he dons the white zuchetto, the headdress that most visibly symbolizes his new role.
Next, the senior Cardinal Deacon (the Cardinal Protodeacon) appears at the main balcony of the basilica's façade to proclaim the election of the new pope to all those assembled below. It has happened in the past that the Cardinal Protodeacon has himself been the person elected Pope. In such an event the announcement is made by the next senior Deacon, who has thus succeeded as Protodeacon, and not by the new Pope himself.
The new Pope then gives his first apostolic blessing, Urbi et Orbi (Latin: "to the City [Rome] and to the World"), and is consecrated at the Papal Inauguration ceremony.
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