The Christian Broadcasting Network

Pope John Paul II

More from's tribute to Pope John Paul II

Related article: Pope John Paul II Ministry Timeline



Choosing a Papal Successor

By The Associated Press -- Secret Ballot: After a pope resigns or dies, the College of Cardinals meets in Conclave. Ballots are taken each day in the Sistine Chapel until a candidate receives two-thirds of the votes. If a long deadlock occurs, the Cardinals may choose to elect by simple majority. No more than 120 Cardinals under the age of 80 may vote.

1. The Pope Dies

The Cardinal Chamberlain becomes responsible for the government of the Church. He seals the Pope's private apartments and arranges for the "ring of the fisherman" and the papal seal to be destroyed.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals notifies all of its Cardinals of the vacancy.

2. Conclave

Fifteen to twenty days following the Pope's death, the Cardinal Electors enter the Conclave. They take up lodgings in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hotel-style accommodation in the Vatican. Election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, which is carefully scoured for listening devices. On entering the Sistine Chapel, the Cardinals take an oath of secrecy.

3. Choosing Assistants

By lot, nine cardinals are chosen to assist the chamberlain:

  • Three "Scrutineers" are assigned to act as tellers counting the votes;
  • Three "Infirmarii" are assigned to collect the votes of the sick; and
  • Three "Revisers" are assigned to review the count of the Scrutineers.

4. Voting

After the ballot papers have been distributed, each cardinal writes the name of his choice on the ballot and folds it twice.

In order of seniority, each cardinal approaches the altar and places his ballot on a plate, with which he drops it into a receptacle, traditionally a chalice.

5. Counting Votes

A Scrutineer mixes the ballots and then counts them. Revisers double check the count and if a suitable majority is not reached, a second election follows immediately. The ballots from the first vote are burned at the end, together with those from the second vote.

The ballots are incinerated in a way that creates black smoke, which indicates that a pope has not been chosen.

6. A Pope is Chosen

If a pope has been chosen, the dean asks him by what name he wishes to be called as Pope.

The Cardinal immediately beomes Pontifex Maximus, the Holy Roman Pontiff, to whom the Cardinals then pledge their obedience.

The ballots are burned with chemicals that give off white smoke, to indicate that a new Pope has been chosen.

7. Declaring a New Pope

Crowds gather, waiting for news. The Dean steps onto the main balcony of the Vatican and declares to the World: "Habemus Papam!" "We have a Pope!"

8. The Pope's Blessing

The new pope appears on the balcony and delivers his first blessing to the waiting world.

Related article: Pope John Paul II Ministry Timeline

More from's tribute to Pope John Paul II

  • Translate
  • Print Page

Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?

A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.

Do You Know Jesus
Grow In Your Faith

Need Prayer?

Call 1-800-700-7000
Email your prayer request

Email iconSign up for E-mail Updates Full List