Are all the cardinals eligible to vote?

Only Cardinals under the age of 80 at the time of the sede vacante are eligible to vote.  If a Cardinal turns 80 between the time the Papacy is empty (by death or by resignation) and the time the conclave ends, he will still be a part of the Conclave.

Can a man who is chosen by the cardinals to become Pope decline the position?

Yes, he can.  Unless he accepts, he never becomes the Pope.

From the code of Canon Law, Canon 332 §1:

The Roman Pontiff acquires full and supreme power in the Church when, together with episcopal consecration, he has been lawfully elected and has accepted the election. 

Accordingly, if he already has the episcopal character, he receives this power from the moment he accepts election to the supreme pontificate. If he does not have the episcopal character, he is immediately to be ordained Bishop.

Three conditions must be fulfilled for the man to become the pontiff:

  1. he has been lawfully elected
  2. he has been ordained a bishop (that’s what it means to have “episcopal character”)
  3. he has accepted the election

The moment all three conditions are fulfilled — and not before — the man whom the cardinals have elected becomes the new Pope.

Until someone accepts the position, the See is still vacant… and the conclave continues.




What do they do if no candidate gets two-thirds of the votes in the papal election?

papal-election-black-smokeShort Answer:

If no candidate gets two-thirds of the votes in the papal election, they try and try and try again.  That is, the cardinals keep voting until one candidate does receive at least two-thirds of the votes, no matter how many ballots it takes.


Pope Benedict XVI changed the rules to require a two-thirds vote

The rules governing the papal election are spelled out in Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Domenici Gregis, as amended by Pope Benedict in 2007 and 2013.

In 2007, and in the 2013 Motu Proprio, written just days before his resignation took effect, Pope Benedict XVI made it absolutely clear that the papal election must be won with at least two thirds of the votes cast.  This is a change from the 1996 rules which had permitted election by a majority vote if the cardinals had reached stalemate after 30 rounds of balloting with no candidate receiving two-thirds of the votes.

After 30 ballots the cardinals can narrow the field to the two top candidates

Each day of the conclave the cardinals cast 4 ballots; two rounds of voting in the morning, two in the afternoon, with the exception of the first day when there is just one vote.  After three days (9 ballots) of voting with no result, the election is suspended for no longer than a day, and the cardinals have an opportunity to pray and hear an address by one of the cardinals.  Then the voting recommences.  A similar break is taken after 7 more rounds of ballots, and this process is repeated after another 7 ballots and a further 7 ballots.

At that point, after 30 ballots with no result, the cardinals are permitted to agree that the election be limited to the two candidates receiving the most votes in the immediately preceding ballot.  Those two candidates are not allowed to cast votes.  In the next rounds of balloting, where the previous rules allowed a majority vote to win, the new rules promulgated by Pope Benedict require the voting to continue until one of the two candidates receives two thirds of the vote.

How is the pope elected?

Via Catholic News Agency, an excellent infographic that displays the basic process of the papal conclave:
CNA conclave graphic

Where does a cardinal go, and what does he do, after election but before his announcement as Pope?

After an individual – likely to be a cardinal –  has been elected in the Conclave, the dean of the College of Cardinals asks, “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” Once he responds, “I accept,” he is officially the pope.  The dean then asks, “By what name do you wish to be called?” and the new pope provided the name.

He is immediately ushered out of the Sistine Chapel to a small adjoining room that houses his new papal robes. It has been given the title “The Room of Tears” presumably because of the intense emotion the election and the weight of the office carries. He walks into the room as a cardinal and out as a pope.

After he is dressed, the new Pope returns to the Sistine Chapel where each of the electors offers a sign of homage and obedience.

An act of thanksgiving to God is then made, then the senior cardinal deacon steps onto the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica and announces in Latin, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus papam.” (I have news of great joy! We have a pope.)

The cardinal then reveals the Pope’s identity, inserting his new name, all in Latin, “Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum {cardinal’s forename} Cardinalem Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae {cardinal’s surname} qui sibi nomen imposuit {new Pope’s name}.” (The most eminent and most reverend lord, lord {cardinal’s forname} cardinal of the Holy Roman church {cardinal’s surname} has taken upon himself the name {new Pope’s name}.)

After this comes a new addition to the schedule: the new Pope goes to the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Chapel to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  After a brief time of prayer the Pope is then led to the balcony, introduced to the faithful and delivers his first “urbi et orbi” (“to the city and the world”) blessing to the city of Rome and the world, in his first official appearance.


What times should I be watching for smoke from the Vatican chimney?

White smoke black smokeThe white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel will signal the election of a new pope, but when are the times to watch?

Tuesday March 12, first day of conclave:

The cardinal electors may vote once in the first session, but it is optional.
If they vote, smoke should appear 7- 8pm (Rome) [2-3pm EDT]
Fr. Lombardi of the Vatican press office will try to report if the cardinals leave the Sistine Chapel without voting.

Wednesday, March 13 and voting days following*

The cardinal electors attend two sessions per day, morning and afternoon, with two rounds of voting in each session.  The ballots are burned at the end of each session, that is, after each two rounds of balloting.  But if there is a successful election on the first ballot of the morning or afternoon, the ballots are burned immediately after that vote.

The smoke should appear:

morning session –

  • around noon (Rome) [7am EDT] – black smoke if no pope, white if successful vote.
  • If the pope is elected on the first morning ballot white smoke will appear 10:30 – 11am (Rome) [5:30 – 6am EDT]

afternoon session –

  • around 7 pm [2 pm EDT] – black smoke if no pope, white if successful vote
  • If the pope is elected on the first afternoon ballot white smoke will appear 5:30 – 6 pm [12:30 – 1 pm EDT]

*there are designated breaks from voting on specified days after several rounds of unsuccessful ballots


where to watch for smoke:

Can the cardinals leave the Sistine Chapel between voting sessions? Where do they eat and sleep?

Universi Dominici Gregis, the “rulebook” for the conclave, states that the cardinals must all stay in the “Domus Sanctae Marthae,”  (“St. Martha’s House”), which will be reserved for them as a sort of residence hall:

By the time fixed for the beginning of the election of the Supreme Pontiff, all the Cardinal electors must have been assigned and must have taken up suitable lodging in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, recently built in Vatican City.

…From the beginning of the electoral process until the public announcement that the election of the Supreme Pontiff has taken place, or in any case until the new Pope so disposes, the rooms of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and in particular the Sistine Chapel and the areas reserved for liturgical celebrations are to be closed to unauthorized persons…


Domus Sanctae Marthae from St. Peter's

The Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse as seen from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican.

According to ZENIT, this residence hall is quite near the Sistine Chapel:

The Santa Martha House (Domus Sanctae Marthae) is a modern residence building located near St. Peter’s Basilica on the site of a former hospice for pilgrims. Since its construction in 1996 it has provided housing for prelates and others having business with the Holy See. The five-story building has 106 suites, 22 single rooms, and one apartment….

In this period of the Sede Vacante, those persons residing in the “Domus” have been moved in order to make the necessary preparations for housing the Cardinal electors. 

The cardinals aren’t the only ones staying in the “Domus.”  Universi Dominici Gregis provides for a number of persons other than the voting cardinals to stay with them there, including housekeepers, medical and nursing staff, priests to hear their confessions, and administrative and liturgical staff.

The cardinals are randomly assigned to quarters that are more like monastic cells than like luxurious hotel rooms.  A Catholic News Service article, “Vatican Guest House Offers Cardinals Privacy, Relaxed Comfort,” has a lengthy description of the “Domus” with photographs of the exterior and the rooms:

The Domus is just inside the Vatican walls, and its upper floors can be seen by Rome apartment buildings; for the 2005 conclave, the shutters on the windows were locked to ensure no one could see in. Of course, that also meant the cardinals could not see out….

When they come in and out of the residence, the cardinals will pass a bronze bust of Blessed John Paul II, who decided in 1996 that the conclave cardinals should have decent quarters. Previously, the cardinals slept on cots in small, stuffy rooms next door to the Sistine Chapel. 

While the Domus offers relative comfort, it is not a luxury hotel. The building has 105 two-room suites and 26 [single rooms]. Each suite has a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a cabinet and large closet; a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand; and a private bathroom with a shower.

The rooms all have telephones, but the cardinals are prohibited from using them to phone anyone outside the conclave. The international satellite television system will be disconnected for the duration.

According to another article:

There are no recreational facilities, no bar and only one small coffee vending machine for the entire building…

Each suite has a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a wall cabinet and large closet; a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand; and a private bathroom with a shower….

Cell phone reception inside the building is spotty…

Not that the cell phone reception matters much — they’re not supposed to be talking on their cell phones.  Universi Dominici Gregis states (par.44):

The Cardinal electors, from the beginning of the election until its conclusion and the public announcement of its outcome, are not to communicate — whether by writing, by telephone or by any other means of communication — with persons outside the area where the election is taking place, except in cases of proven and urgent necessity…

And even in those “cases of proven and urgent necessity,” the Cardinals have to run it by a panel of three Cardinals and the Camerlengo first (par. 7.).

The Cardinals can choose to walk from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Sistine Chapel and back, or they can take a shuttle:

During the Conclave the Cardinal electors can walk from the “Domus” to the Sistine Chapel unless they desire to use the small bus that has been placed at their disposition.

According to EWTN, the Domus is run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

To see photos of the interior of the Domus Sanctae Marthae:

three photos of the Domus accompanying an article from the 2005 Conclave

And here’s a video tour:


Reltated Question:

Where do the Cardinals stay during the conclave?

Why is the conclave secret?

extra-omnesShort Answer:

Why is the conclave secret?  Here are some of the reasons given:

  • Strict secrecy gives the cardinals freedom to vote without distraction, influence, or coercion. They can cast their ballots based on their prayer and discernment rather than the dictates of political powers, media pressure, or popular opinion.
  • Permanent confidentiality can foster the exercise of the cardinals’ independent judgment without fear of later public criticism and can promote unity in the church.


Church historians and clergy have given various explanations for this secrecy.

The first is historical.  Up until the beginning of the 20th century various temporal rulers had the power to veto papal elections.  Although seldom exercised, it was a very real possibility.  In fact, just over 100 years ago in the 1903 conclave, a cardinal from Austria informed the electors that Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph opposed the election of the front-runner, Mariano Cardinal Rampolla, and blocked his election.  Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto – who became Pope Pius X – was elected instead.  Almost immediately, the new pope eliminated the veto power.  Although no longer in force, the specter of the veto continues to linger.  ‘‘There is that fear,’’ Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall, said. ‘‘Going back previous centuries, kings did interfere, sometimes with an army.’’

Monsignor Wister also pointed out that confidentiality of the voting process promotes unity in the Church, as it insulates the pope from knowing which cardinals voted for and against him.  ‘‘It’s not the Renaissance where he’d be poisoned, but it’s a matter of human respect,’’ Wister said.

Fr. Thomas Rosica who is the spokesman for the English media for the upcoming Conclave,  gives some other explanations for the secrecy:

it’s really the last institution in the world where there’s a sacredness about respect for information and respect for the election of the candidate. …First of all there’s the respect for history. But second of all there’s an aspect of the divine that’s present in this, … there’s the presence of the Spirit in this and I respect that.

At the time of the previous conclave in 2005, Ray Suarez of the show PBS News Hour interviewed Christopher Bellitto, a Church historian at Kean University.  He turned the focus away from secrecy per se:

You see, there’s been a lot of attention played on this word “secrecy.” And, yes, there is an element of secrecy, but it’s probably better to look at it as confidentiality, as a sequestered jury.You know, there comes a time after all the tumult in a courtroom where people have to go in a room and be quiet and settle down and think, and in this case, pray about the choice that they’re going to make. It’s hard to do that with a lot of things going on. However, there’s secrecy and there’s secrecy. For instance, in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, the people who were passing the dishes back and forth, the dirty dishes during the conclave, used to chalk on the bottom of the plates the names of the cardinals and their tally counts.

Related Question:

How secret are the workings of the conclave?

What does the Sistine Chapel look like during the conclave? What special preparations are needed?

Forty workers had the task of transforming the Sistine Chapel into the site of the Conclave, set to start on March 12, 2013. Their goal:

[to] create inside a “photocopy” of the previous Conclaves, in which everything must remain unchanged as it has been for centuries: this thousand-year-old tradition will be replicated down to the last detail, with the aid of a wealth of historical photographic documents. [source]

For photos of the Sistine Chapel from past conclaves, see the gallery on the Vatican Museum site, and for current 2013 photos, check out the photo albums on the page on Facebook.

Sistine Chapel frescoes

The cardinals cast their ballots on an altar in front of this fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel

Nearly all of the alterations to accommodate the Conclave are in the lowest level of the chapel, leaving Michelangelo’s iconic frescoes visible to the Cardinals as they vote.

A temporary wooden floor has been installed on a base of scaffolding resting on the chapel’s marble tiles.  The new platform floor is at the level of the altar, with a long ramp leading up from the original floor.   In 2005 it was reported that for the first time an electronics-jamming system was installed beneath the false floor.

Each cardinal has a cherry wood chair, with his name on it.  There are 12 extra-long wooden tables – six on each side of the chapel, facing each other.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was given a tour the Sistine Chapel with other press officers from America on Sunday, March 10, to see how it looked just before the Conclave.  Her report, in part:

Workmen were still painting the windows so no one will be able to see in but the part of the chapel for the electors seemed all set. We couldn’t enter that section of the chapel but could see a name card was at each place and saw the seats reserved for Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal James Harvey, the Milwaukee native who now is archpriest at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. Tan tablecloths and red skirting covered the long tables. At each place was a red leather folder, prayer book, the Ordo Rituum Conclavis (prayers for conclave ritual), and a blue, ballpoint click pen. All of this beneath and before the majestic paintings by Michelangelo. We studied the much described stoves for burning the ballots with their tall copper smokestack amidst gold painted scaffolding. We resisted the temptation to push the button marked “Start.”

A stove – or more accurately – two stoves have been brought in to the chapel, and connected with a copper duct which is kept in place by scaffolding reaching to the ceiling.  A special chimney was put in place on the roof and connected to the copper duct; this is where the black smoke and white smoke will rise, signaling whether or not the balloting was successful in electing a pope.

Here’s a video from showing installation of the stoves and chimney:

The chimney is tested with chemicals that turn the smoke yellow, so as not to confuse anyone.

More information:

“Extra Omnes!” – article on the Vatican Museums site

Behind the scenes in the Sistine Chapel

Bolts, pipes and joists in front of the Last Judgment

The page on Facebook has several sets of photos of the work in progress, making the Sistine Chapel ready to host the 2013 Conclave.

Virtual view of the Sistine Chapel (non-Conclave view)

Who is in charge of the papal conclave?

Normally the Dean of the College of Cardinals would preside at the both Conclave and the General Congregation meetings before the Conlave starts.  If the Dean is ineligible to attend the Conclave the job falls to the Sub-Dean.  But the current Dean and Sub-Dean are both over 80 years old, too old to attend the Conclave.  The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is 85 and the current Sub-Dean, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, is age 90.

The next in line to preside at the Conclave is the most senior cardinal elector, in this case Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who is age 79.  So it is Cardinal Re who presides at the Conclave that began on March 12, 2013.  The Dean, Cardinal Sodano, presided at all 10 of the General Congregation meetings that were held from March 4 – 11.

In 2005 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the Cardinal Dean and presided over the Conclave to choose the successor to Pope John Paul II.  That successor turned out to be Cardinal Ratzinger himself.