As the princes of the Church, only cardinals have the exclusive responsibility to choose a successor to the Pope. As soon the Sede Vacante (Vacant Seat) begins, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Card. Angelo Sodano will officially call all able-bodied cardinals to Rome. But only the ones under 80 can take part in the election.
|The Vatican code of arms during the Sede Vacante|
The start of the conclave has to be delayed 15 days, to give all cardinals time to get to Rome, but start no later than 20 days after the beginning of the Sede Vacante.
The Sistine Chapel, where the conclave has to take place, must be sealed off, and the insides checked for any hidden recording devices. For the entire conclave, the cardinals are required to stay at the Vatican's Domus Sanctae Marthae. Cardinals are not allowed to communicate with the outside world, or have access to the media. They could be excommunicated if they do.
The conclave starts with the Pro Eligendo Papa Mass, asking for God's help in electing the new Pope. From there, they'll head to the Sistine Chapel and take an individual oath of secrecy and to not help any outsiders trying to intervene in the conclave. Then they start voting.
In many ways, the voting is the most complicated and time consuming part of this process. In order for a cardinal to become Pope, he's required to get two thirds of the votes. On the first day they'll vote only once. But after that, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. There will be a pause for prayer and discussion each time, after thirteen ballots, if no cardinal gets the two thirds majority.
Mexico's Cardinal Barragán shares his experience from the 2005 conclave: “On the line of each ballot, we must write the name of the cardinal we choose, but in capital letters, and in a way that no one can tell who's voting.” Each papal elector then walks up the altar of the Sistine Chapel, folds his ballot twice, and places it in this plate. After affirming it's his, he drops it into a receptacle. Three cardinals, whose names were chosen at random, will tally the ballots individually.
“The first cardinal, on the far left, will silently read the ballot. He passes it to the second, who reads it silently. He passes it to the third who reads it out loud” says Cardinal Barragan. The ballots will be strung together using a needle, to avoid double counts. Three other cardinals will double check the tallies to ensure the counts are correct. After that, all cardinals will turn in their notes, which will be burned, along with final ballot tallies.
When the ballots where the candidate's name was written are burnt, the smoke is black. Once a Cardinal has crossed a two-thirds majority, incense is added to the ballots, which produces the white smoke while burning, that is called the fumata bianca. Then the bells of Saint Peter's Basilica would start ringing as a sign of joy.
The dean of the College of Cardinals steps out to the balcony, would come to the newly elect Cardianl and ask him: :do you accept your canonically vowed position as successor to Saint Peter?", and as soon as he says, 'acceto', or I accept in Italian, he becomes the Pope.”
The Cardinal Dean, or highest ranking Cardinal Bishop, will also ask the newly elected Pope (and therefore Bishop of Rome) what name he would like to take on. The new Pope will change into one of the three best-fitting white tunics, already prepared for his election. After greeting his peers, he then prepares for the Apostolic Blessing Urbi et Orbi (To the City and to the World) at Saint Peter's Square, marking the end of the conclave.