Benedict XVI Retires: How They’ll Elect a New Pope

With the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is retiring, the church leadership begins the necessary steps to find a new Pontiff — a unique and unusual process whose origins date back centuries

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Max Rossi / Reuters

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he would step down from his position as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the first Pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. With his retirement, the church leadership begins the necessary steps to find a new Pope — a unique and unusual process whose origins date back centuries.

(ANALYSIS: The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI: Is it Health or Politics or Both?)

Starting soon after the Pope officially steps down at the end of the month, Cardinals from around the world will head to Rome to take part in a procedure known as a conclave. The group, known as the College of Cardinals, will stay in the Casa di Santa Marta — a $20 million hotel-style residence inside the Vatican walls — and won’t leave the Vatican grounds until the new Pope has been selected.

The Universi Dominici Gregis, the Catholic Church constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996, dictates that all the electors must be under the age of 80 — leaving 118 Cardinals eligible to take part out of a total of 210. With the conclave mooted to take place next month, at least one Cardinal will just miss out on the voting process.

The conclave will take place behind closed doors in the Vatican’s famous Sistine Chapel, completely isolated from the outside world. The first ballot may be held on the first afternoon of the conclave, after morning Mass. After that, the conclave will hold two ballots in the morning and two ballots in the afternoon until a Pope is elected.

(PAPAL PRECEDENT: Other Popes Who Have Resigned)

Technically, any baptized male Catholic is eligible. But since 1378, all new Popes have come from within the College of Cardinals. Officially, only the Holy Spirit holds sway over the results. But more terrestrial considerations can also influence the Cardinals’ choice: age, nationality, life experience, personality and positions on major issues facing the church are all factors. And as TIME’s Howard Chua-Eoan explains, this conclave will be especially politically charged.

After each voting round, tradition dictates that the ballots are bound together and burned in a special oven erected temporarily inside the chapel. The smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney signals to the expectant faithful in St. Peter’s Square the outcome of the vote.

If the smoke is black (an effect produced by a chemical compound burned along with the ballots), it means that no candidate has achieved the two-thirds majority needed to win — and another round of balloting will take place. If the smoke is white, a new Pope has been elected.

A senior Cardinal then takes to the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to announce, in Latin: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus papam.” Which translates as, “I announce to you news of great joy: we have a Pope.”

The new Pope will be free to take any name he chooses. Some Popes honor a favorite saint or a Pope they admire, while others honor their immediate predecessors: John Paul II followed John Paul I, who came after Paul VI and John XXIII.

(PHOTOS: Hanging Up His Hat: Pope Benedict’s History of Fanciful Headwear)

FredFlintsone 1 Like

In his previous life Benedict hung out with uncle Adolph as part of the Hitler youth. The entire Vatican structure is one large ode to paganism. In front of the old Vatican stands a fountain one had to be baptized in before entering the church. The water comes out of a statue of the goddess Isis. Coming up Easter/Ishtar. Catholics should look up that little darling. The red Easter eggs symbolic of the new borne sacrificed in Ishtar's honor borne from the previous Easters orgies with the temple priestesses.


@FredFlintsone As an Australian, whose Govt has just opened an inquiry in to child sexual abuse in institutions, including the catholic church> I had a "vision". A large man ( possibly named Bruce) jumps out from behind a curtain and exclaims "no-one expects the Australian Royal Comission) the ex Pope, of course laughs at the irony. ( Apologies Monty Python)

SmoothEdward1 1 Like

In case you non-Catholics don't know what the College of Cardinals is, it's sort of like the University of Phoenix for priests.

DarwinAkbar 2 Like





....the next Pope will probably be chosen for the same qualifications.



Oddly enough, people who decry homosexual pedophiles in the Catholic Church are now demanding that the Boy Scouts recruit them. Go figure.

KevinDaleMcKeown 3 Like

@mary.waterton @DarwinAkbar The ignorance you display in conflating homosexuality with pedophilia is unfortunately still widespread. The Scouts are being asked to be inclusive of self-identified scout leaders and, yes, scouts (boys know what they are remarkably early). Nobody is asking the Scouts to "recruit" pedophiles (who are, for the most part, heterosexually oriented). But you just keep going on your merry, bigoted way. Don't let the facts deter you.

RLobb 1 Like

Benedict was a deeply intellectual man who was unable to control a runaway Vatican bureaucracy.  Some attempts were made, only to be frustrated by higher-ups.  Benedict served in the Curia for many years himself.  Perhaps he thought reform was impossible.  At any rate, at 85 years old he is older than John Paul II was when he died, oldre than any pope in over a hundred years, and visibly tired.  I hope the Lord will bless him with a peaceful retirement.


Pensive, patient, prayerful and pragmatic would be one way to describe Pope Benedict XVI. Popes come and go. This pope has tweaked the papacy in many ways and his resignation is a final gesture of the same stature. A pope who resigns strips, hopefully once and for all, the notion of the pope as someone who in a merely terrestrial sense is "seated at the right hand of God." The papacy can perhaps in the minds of a billion Catholics and all others become truly a ministry rather than a kind of monarchy.

rodzzz 3 Like

Benedict XVI was a clown. His comments against gay marriage were a disgrace to human equality and tolerance. His inaction against child sex offences by priests is criminal. See for an overview of the Pope's hypocrisy. Also see The problem is the stupid cardinals who voted him in are still there and will vote in another moron no doubt.

fatality1515 1 Like


rodzzz you have to be a total moron to support something perverted like gay marriage and think that it's about equality and tolerance. Homosexual propaganda and liberal stupidity has no end..

By the way, your inaction against Bush, who murdered thousands of Iraqis, is criminal! Go fetch a frisbee dog!