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Electing a pope: Conclave, oath, chimney smoke
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation sets in motion a complex sequence of events to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The laws governing the selection are the same as those in force after a papal death. Here is the procedure:
• The Vatican summons a conclave of cardinals that must begin 15 to 20 days after Benedict’s Feb. 28 resignation.
• Cardinals eligible to vote — those under age 80 — are sequestered within Vatican City and take an oath of secrecy.
• Any baptized Roman Catholic male is eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378.
• Two ballots are held each morning and two each afternoon in the Sistine Chapel. A two-thirds majority is required. Benedict in 2007 reverted back to this two-thirds majority rule, reversing a 1996 decision by Pope John Paul II, who had decreed that a simple majority could be invoked after about 12 days of inconclusive voting.
• Ballots are burned after each round. Black smoke means no decision; white smoke signals that cardinals have chosen a pope and he has accepted. Bells also signal the election of a pope to help avoid possible confusion over the color of the smoke coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.
• The new pope is introduced from the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square with the words “Habemus Papam!” (Latin for “We have a pope!”), and he imparts his first blessing.
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