Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation will become official on Feb. 28, and the conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope will begin soon after. Here’s a timeline to browse significant events planned before Benedict’s resignation and what happens afterwards. We’ll update this timeline when the Vatican announces a date for the start of the conclave.
Benedict will offer his final Sunday Angelus reflection
Benedict will meet with cardinals in the morning. That afternoon, he will move to Castel Gandolfo, a papal vacation villa where he will remain until a new pope has been elected. At 8 p.m. Rome time, Benedict’s resignation will become official.
Preparation begins for the conclave of 117 cardinals to elect a new pope. While the papacy is vacant, the college of cardinals govern the church, but cannot make decisions reserved for the pope. Under Vatican rules, conclaves to elect a new pope are held 15-20 days after the papal throne is declared vacant.
Pre-conclave meetings of cardinals, known as “general congregations,” are expected to begin March 4.
On the first day of the conclave, the cardinal-electors assemble in St. Peter’s Basilica to attend morning Mass. In the afternoon, they process north to the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals take an oath of secrecy and swear not to let outsiders interfere in the election. People not connected with the conclave are ordered to leave. The cardinals cannot leave Vatican grounds until they elect a pope. A churchman chosen by the conclave reminds cardinal-electors of their “grave duty.” Paper ballots are cast in silence. Discussions and arguments are held outside the Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Rene Shaw)
If a pope is not elected by a two-thirds majority, the cardinals continue to hold one morning and one afternoon ballot. Ballots are burned in a special stove, whose chimney is visible to onlookers in St. Peter’s Square. Black smoke means there is no winner; white smoke means a new pope has been elected.
If no pope is elected after 3 days, the conclave pauses for a day of prayer and reflection. (The last conclave to last more than five days was in 1831, which lasted 54 days.) Voting then continues for another seven votes, followed by another break, and an additional round of seven votes.
After 12 days, a runoff is held between the two candidates who have received the most votes in the last ballot. A two-third’s majority is still required for election.
If a candidate is elected, he is asked “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” (If the candidate is not a bishop, the cardinals must consecrate him immediately.) The newly elected pope chooses his papal name. After white smoke swirls up the chimney, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica ring, and a senior cardinal will announce from the balcony, “Habemus papam” — “We have a pope.”
The only record of the voting is a document prepared at the end of the election. It is given to the new pope and placed in a sealed envelope in the archives, only to be opened with papal permission.
After changing into white vestments, the pope delivers his first “urbi et orbi” blessing to the city of Rome and the world. A week after his election, the new pope will celebrate his installation Mass inside St. Peter’s and receive the pallium, or papal stole.
Illustrations via openclipart.org.