In 1996, the good and kind Blessed Pope John Paul II formally issued a document called the “Constitution of the Universal flock of the Lord” specifically meant to lay down the normative provisions for the election of a new Pope – upon either the resignation or death of the previous one. These are substantially the same official norms that will be observed by the College of Cardinals during the election for the Successor of the resigned Pope Benedict XVI. These are all the electors just as every one of them is eligible for election to the Papacy. In essence, following are the more signal steps observed in the process:
The Cardinals from all over the world, below 80 years old, gather in Rome upon receiving their individual summons. They all take their residence at the St. Martha’s building within the Vatican walls, some 350 meters from the Sistine Chapel where the Cardinals then go – when everything is ready – for the holding of the Conclave for the actual election of the new Pope.
After some general meetings on the particulars of the election process and other necessary information, the said gatherings are ended with a Solemn Oath of observing the strict confidentiality of the acts of the Conclave. The Cardinals thereafter silently go to the Sistine Chapel which is then locked. Balloting is then held, twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon.
Every Cardinal writes on his ballot the name of another Cardinal he is voting for as Pope, goes before the altar of the Chapel, places the ballot on large metal plate for dropping in a big metal chalice. After every balloting, all the votes are one by one separately checked and written down by two “Scrutineers”, and eventually read aloud by a third “Scrutineer”.
To be elected Pope, a Cardinal needs 2/3 plus 1 vote of ½ plus 1 votes after some 12 or more days have passed and the said absolute majority vote is not obtained. Eventually, the Dean of the College of Cardinals faces Cardinal getting the required number of votes, and asks him two question: If he accepts the Election. If so, what name does he want to be called.
After every election where no Cardinal is elected, all the ballots are burned. By mixing therewith a certain chemical, the smoke emitted is black. When someone gets elected, accepts the election and gives the name he wants to be called as Pope, all the ballots are also burned without the chemical. Thus it is that white smoke comes out from a little chimney of a Vatican apartment.
Eventually, the newly elected Pope appears at the Balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica – after the Dean of Cardinals says loud and clear “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a Pope!” The Pope then greets the Catholics all over the globe and imparts upon them and their families his Apostolic Blessing. And the day after, Pope begins his work as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church and as Head of State of the Vatican – with but free board and lodging but absolutely no salary.