The next man selected to be the pope will lead a flock of approximately one billion Catholics, rocketing the selected pope from relative obscurity to international power.
The process to select the pope involves more than one hundred church leaders from all over the world locking themselves inside the Vatican for days of voting at a conclave .
Parts of the procedure are ancient when compared to other electoral systems, and the whole system is rather complex.
The College of Cardinals is the collective group of Cardinals in the church. At the moment, there are 209 Cardinals.
There will be at most 120 electors drawn from this College to vote for the next Pope at the conclave.
Any Cardinal who turns 80 before the day the Papacy is vacated cannot take part in the election. Pope Benedict XVI will vacate the papacy on February 28.
Any Cardinal born before February 28, 1933 is automatically eliminated, narrowing this Conclave's possible field of electors to 116 Cardinals.
The composition of that group is crucial when analyzing the potential selections of Popes. Each region has a certain number of Cardinals representing their area at the Vatican. Of the Electors:
- 10 are from Africa
- 12 are from Asia
- 20 are from North America
- 13 from South America
- 61 are from Europe.
Of the European delegation, 28 of the 61 European Cardinals are from Italy.
The Conclave to select Benedict's replacement will begin sometime between March 15 and March 20. From the start of the conclave onward, the Cardinals are completely cut off from the outside world inside a hospice within the Vatican. Voting takes place inside a locked Sistine Chapel.
Two ballots will be held each day and a two-thirds plus one majority is required to elect the Pope.
After 12 or 13 days, the Cardinals can swap over to majority voting to expedite the process.
The top of each ballot is inscribed with the latin Eligo in Summum Pontificem which translates to "I elect as supreme pontiff." The elector than writes the name of the desired choice on the ballot in secret. As each Cardinal votes, they pray, and deposit their vote at the altar.
Three Cardinals delegated as Scrutineers count the ballots, ensure everyone has voted, each make a count and then burn the ballots. The scrutineers douse the discarded ballots with chemicals to make the smoke black if there isn't a Pope, and make the smoke white in the event that "Habemus Papam."
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