On Wednesday afternoon, White smoke appeared from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 7:05 p.m. CET (2:05 p.m. EDT / 11:05 a.m. PDT) after five rounds of voting indicating that the pope elected has accepted the position. According to Catholic tradition, the newly appointed Bishop of Rome is the 266th successor of St. Peter and leader of 1.2 billion Catholics in the worldwide church. In 2005, Benedict XVI was elected on the second day after four rounds of voting. The 115 catholic cardinals who voted in this papal election have elected the new pope with at least 77 votes. After the smoke emerged from the chimney, the big bell of St. Peter’s Basilica could be heard faintly in the background as the crowd at St. Peter’s Square cheered at the moment the bells began to ring signaling the election of a new pope. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will appear in a matter of minutes to shout from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a new pope!”) proceeded by the presentation of the new pope in his white papal cassocks to give his first blessing as pope. Benedict, who did not participate in the election due to health reasons, is the first pope to step down in 600 years, however he was able to in his eight years to solidify the church’s message on the core Catholic values such as opposition to gay marriage and abortion and saw gains in membership in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. On the other hand, his departure is at a time when the church has lost membership in Europe and the United States, is dealing with financial mismanagement of church assets and overcoming the tide of molestation accusations. Fortunately, the mood of the faithful in front of St.Peter’s Basilica was excitement and anticipation following the news. The first vote happened on Tuesday and two morning votes on Wednesday all had similar results with black smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel chimney that ended with no pope.
The papal conclave that will be held next week has had its share of rumors including competitions between Italian and non-Italian cardinals, cardinals who want access to classified Vatican documents, and several lists with names of potential papal candidates. On Saturday, one of few sources of official information on the Vatican hinted to reporters, according to Huff Post, about the mood inside the general meetings held before the conclave on Tuesday. As Rev. Fredrico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, explained in a brief statement to the the press there’s no reason to believe it will take long for a new pope to be chosen suggesting there may be a frontrunner or multiple frontrunners which could indicate that a new pope could be elected before Friday. If the past is a good indicator, this may very well be true as both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II were elected in two days. On Saturday, despite rumors on Friday when the date for the conclave was announced and Vatican reporters suggested that Italian cardinals wanted an earlier date to influence the vote before all the cardinals had arrived, during a briefing with Lombardi he denied any huge discussions among cardinals about when to start voting according to the Huff Post. Including Saturday, cardinals have met a total of nine times in General Congregation during pre-conclave meeting to discuss church priorities and a conclave date which Lombardi commented on Saturday that the cardinals decided on March 12 for the conclave with a 10 to 1 margin. There will be no General Congregation on Sunday but will resume on Monday to discuss hopes for the new pope, regional development in the church and improving the curia which is dominated by Italian cardinals.
The spokesman for the Vatican also detailed the timeline for the voting process. Cardinals have already drawn lots for rooms on Saturday for Casa Santa Marta, a guarded Vatican residence, where they will stay during the conclave. Tuesday morning, they will move to the Sistine Chapel through the connected Pauline Chapel where the Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice (“for the Election of the Roman Pontiff”) will happen at 10 a.m. proceeded by the oath of secrecy at 4:30 p.m. in the Sistine Chapel. After the oath, anyone not involved with the voting will be asked to leave, then the cardinals will listen to Maltese Cardinal Prospero Grech about conclave responsibilities and will vote up to two times. At 7 p.m. prayer will happen and 7:30 return to Casa Santa Marta. Aside from Tuesday, the cardinals will be voting four times a day until two thirds votes or 77 votes are received to elect the new pope. Every time their is a vote and whether the winning vote is taken will determine the color of the smoke which is white for a new pope and black for no pope elected. Before the white smoke can be released, the new pope must accept the position according to Lombardi who also says if the smoke is released at night then the Sistine Chapel chimney will be lit up. If no pope is chosen by Friday, then the cardinals on Saturday will reflect and pray resuming their voting for three days with one day break until the 34th voting round where the two top candidates will have a runoff. When the pope is chosen and white smoke rises, as when Benedict was chosen, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will ring which according to Lombardi took about 40 minutes between the two in 2005. On the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the senior cardinal deacon, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran will shout “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a new pope!” and will present the new pope with the white papal cassocks to give his first blessing as pope.
On Friday, the Vatican announced that the College of Cardinals will begin the papal conclave meeting to elect the next pope on Tuesday afternoon March 12 where all cardinals under 80 years old will be eligible to vote for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s successor leaving 115 cardinals to decide at the Sistine Chapel who will be the new leader of the Catholic Church. The cardinals will vote up to four times a day until two thirds which is 77 cardinals agree on the next pope. In the last conclave that lead to Benedict’s election in 2005, the vote only took two days because the cardinals agreed on the election however the conclave could last much longer if there is no consensus. According to the Vatican press office, “The eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday, 12 March 2013….A pro eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass will be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning. In the afternoon the cardinals will enter into the Conclave.” Benedict changed the rules of the conclave before he resigned Feb. 28 allowing the cardinals to start it earlier than usual especially since these are special circumstances. The Cardinals have already met eight times since Monday to talk about church priories and pick a date, but the delay in deciding a date occurred because some cardinals had yet to arrive at the Vatican until the last three days. Even before the conclave, cardinals will continue to meet in General Congregations on Saturday and Monday. After the conclave begins on Tuesday, the cardinals will be guarded in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence, when not in conclave and will not be able to contact anyone outside the conclave including cell phones, media, and Internet.
Cardinals will cast four ballots each day that will be burned twice daily and the smoke from the Sistine Chapel will determine the outcome, with black smoke meaning no agreement has been reached and white smoke indicating a new leader has been chosen. As of yet, no clear front runner has emerged even though a handful of cardinals are rumored to be running, but according to Huff Post Italy on Friday two cardinals have been the focus of press this week which are Brazilian-born Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer and the Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola as well as two Americans, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, are also considered long-shot candidates. Several of the cardinals who will vote in the conclave and are potential pope candidates are from Europe. Lombardi on Friday also showed where the new pope will sleep his first night and for several weeks while the papal apartment where Benedict lived is renovated. The apartment was sealed after the resignation and church rules state it can’t be opened again until the new pope is elected.