When a Pope Dies

The procedures that are followed after the death of a Pope are complex and interesting.
The papal chamberlain first verifies that the Pope has passed away. He then seals the apartments doors with red ribbon that is not removed until a new pope is elected.
The cardinals of the world will travel quickly to Rome upon news of the Pope’s death as they are responsible for arranging the funeral as well as for electing the new pope. They declare a nine-day period of mourning and oversee the destruction of the pope’s ring and seal. This is done to ensure that no papal documents can be forged after his death.
The cardinals decide how the pope’s body will be available for public viewing and when the funeral will take place, and plan other details in accordance with instructions left by the late pope. Burial must take place between the fourth and sixth day after death, usually in St Peter’s Cathedral. The pope’s broken ring and seal and copies of his most important statements and decisions are interred with the body.
Between 15 and 18 days after the papacy has become vacant, the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals starts a conclave. All cardinals who are in Rome can enter the voting process, although they cannot be older than 80 years. The total number of electing cardinals goes up to a maximum of 120. During the conclave they are under strict orders not communicate with the outside world. The actual voting takes place in the Sistine Chapel, the doors of which are locked.
Any orthodox Catholic male can be elected as pope but history almost guarantees that it will be a member of the College of Cardinals. Pontiffs are chosen by a two-third majority of the votes. Each cardinal carries his ballot to the altar after the vote. He swears that his vote is for his choice, places the voting slip onto a plate and tips it from the plate into a receptacle on the altar.After the voting the ballots are collected and burned. If the outcome is negative (no 2/3 majority), wet straw is added to the fire and black smoke travels up a long pipe where it can be seen by waiting crowds. When a majority is attained, the ballots are burned without straw, providing the famous white smoke which signals that a new pope has been elected. The chosen person becomes pope by responding positively to the question "Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?". He is then asked: “By what name do you wish to be called?”
The oldest cardinal then proclaims to the people in St. Peters Square: ‘Habemus Papam’ (We have a Pope). The pope then appears to bless Rome and the rest of the world.
Shortly after the election, the new Pontiff is formally installed. He is not ordained pope since he has already been ordained deacon, priest and bishop. Until 1964 the Pope would receive the tiara, but coronation is no longer a part of the inauguration. Both John Paul I and John Paul II chose instead to wear a normal bishop’s mitre and the pallium, a circle of cloth around the neck which symbolises the pope’s jurisdiction as chief pastor.


Elizabeth Harrington