Papal election

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  • Successors to Peter originally chosen by the Roman church--clergy and laity.
  • The right of the laity to refuse the person elected was abolished by a Synod held in the Lateran in 769, but restored to Roman noblemen by Pope Nicholas I during a Synod of Rome in 862.
  • 1059: the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors. Cardinals are appointed by the Pope.
  • Conclave refers to the fact that the Cardinals are locked into a building with "with a key" (cum clave) until they elect a new Pope. The rule dates from 1274 and was prompted by the Cardinals refusing to agree on a pope between 1268-1271.
  • 1621: Gregory XV created the rules that are essentially still in use today.
  • 1917: Only those who are already priests or bishops may be appointed as Cardinals.
  • 1971: electors limited to 120 (up from 70) cardinals under 80 years of age.
  • 1996: John Paul II, apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.
  • Two-thirds plus one supermajority required for election.
  • Two ballots in the morning, two in the afternoon.
  • The ballots are burned after each vote.
  • Dark smoke = no one elected.
  • White smoke and bells (2005) = "Habemus papam!"
  • 1958: abandonment of sealing wax on the ballots made it hard to tell the color of the smoke during the conclave that led to the election of John Paul XXIII.


1 Tues 12 1 ballot
2 Wed 13 4 ballots
3 Thu 14 4 ballots
4 Fri 15 4 ballots
5 Sat 16 Day of Prayer
6 Sun 17 4 ballots
7 Mon 18 3 ballots
8 Tue 19 Day of Prayer
9 Wed 20 4 ballots


These are the top group listed in "Next Pope Betting Odds." I haven't got a dog in this fight. The only reason for compiling this list is so that I can understand who is being discussed in various and sundry commentaries.

Name Birth Country Office
Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson 1948-10-11 Ghana President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Angelo Scola 1941-11-07 Italy Archbishop of Milan
Marc Ouellet 1944-06-08 Canada Archbishop emeritus of Tours
Tarcisio Bertone 1934-12-02 Italy Secretary of State and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
Leonardo Sandri 1943-11-18 Argentina Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
Angelo Bagnasco 1943-02-14 Italy Archbishop of Genoa
Francis Arinze Over 80. Won't be in the conclave.
Péter Erdo 1952-06-25 Hungary Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest
Gianfranco Ravasi 1942-10-18 Italy President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
Odilo Scherer 1949-09-21 Brazil Archbishop of São Paulo
Christoph Schönborn 1945-01-22 Austria Archbishop of Vienna

National Catholic Reporter on Sean O' Malley: people seem to think it is not inconceivable to have an American pope.

Longest and Shortest Conclaves

"The shortest and longest conclaves."
The papal election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the shortest conclaves in church history ... just over 24 hours.
John Paul II's election in 1978 took just three days, with cardinals selecting him in the conclave's eighth ballot.

The longest conclave began 1268 in central Italian Viterbo and lasted two years, nine months and two days. The cardinals had been unable to reach the two-thirds majority required even after they were given drastically reduced food supplies.
Only when incensed residents began dismantling the roof above the election room did they elect Pope Gregory X in September 1271 as the conclave feared a deluge of the first stormy autumn rains.
A conclave held 1314 in Carpentras, southern France, proved especially dramatic. Impatient mobs set fire to the bishop's palace where the crimson-robed conclave members were conferring, causing them to flee.
"Papal conclave, 1378"
The papal conclave from April 7 to 9, 1378 was the papal conclave which was the immediate cause of the Western Schism in the Catholic Church. The conclave was one of the shortest in the history of the Catholic Church.
French cardinals bowed to pressure from Roman mob to elect an Italian: "Romano lo volemo, o al manco Italiano." They returned to Avignon and elected an anti-Pope, beginning the Great Western Papal Schism.
1378--last time a non-Cardinal was elected--Pope Urban VI.

The shortest conclave took place in Rome on Oct 31, 1503, and after only a few hours Pope Julius II emerged. The election of Pius XII in 1939 lasted 20 hours.
"Papal conclave, October 1503"
The papal conclave, October 1503 elected Giuliano della Rovere as Pope Julius II to succeed Pope Pius III. The conclave took place during the Italian Wars barely a month after the papal conclave, September 1503, and none of the electors had traveled far enough from Rome to miss the conclave.
"Pope Julius II"
Pope Julius II (5 December 1443 – 21 February 1513), nicknamed "The Fearsome Pope" (Il Papa Terribile)[1] and "The Warrior Pope" (Il Papa Guerriero),[2] born Giuliano della Rovere, was Pope from 1503 to 1513. His papacy was marked by an active foreign policy, ambitious building projects, and patronage for the arts - he commissioned the destruction and rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, plus Michelangelo's decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
He was nevertheless the first pope since antiquity to wear a beard, a practice otherwise forbidden by canon law since the 13th century.
Julius was not the first pope to have fathered children before being elevated to the Chair of St Peter. His only known daughter to survive to adulthood, Felice della Rovere, was born in 1483.
On my list of Bad Popes.
Wikipedia, "Papal conclave, 1939"
Shortest of the 20th century.
The Papal conclave of 1939 was convoked on the brink of World War II with the death of Pope Pius XI on 10 February that year in the Apostolic Palace. With all 62 living cardinals in attendance, the conclave to elect Pius' successor began on 1 March and ended a day later, on 2 March, after three ballots. There is a rumor that he was elected on the second ballot with exactly two-thirds majority, but requested a third ballot to confirm his election. The ballots were burned with dry straw, but the smoke turned from white to black, so the election had to be confirmed by sending a note to Vatican Radio. When the new Pope met the sisters who took care of his office as Secretary of State, he is said to have said, "Look what they have done to me!"
"Papal conclave, August 1978"
Summer time. No windows allowed to be opened in the Sistine Chapel. Largest number of cardinals ever. Thrones replaced with twelve long tables.
John Paul I elected on fourth ballot.
After Jean-Marie Villot officially asked Luciani whether he accepted his election, he humbly exclaimed, "May God forgive you for what you have done," before accepting. In honor of his two immediate predecessors, he took John Paul I as his regnal name.
The smoke signal was again unclear--first white, then black, because some cardinals had added notes and tally sheets to the stove.
This conclave was unusual in the fact that the future Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were also present. This made it the first conclave since 1721 in which three future popes participated, and the first since 1829 in which there had been more than one.
"Papal conclave, 2005"
Four ballots to elect Benedict XVI.
The smoke was white, but ringing of the bells was a little delayed.

Summary table

year pope notes
1271 Gregory X 2 years, 9 months, 2 days. Cardinals put on a diet of bread and water, to no avail. Then the people of Viterbo ("City of Popes") started tearing the roof off the building housing the Cardinals.
1378 Urban VI One of the shortest conclaves. Last time a non-Cardinal was elected Pope. Roman mobs pressured the cardinals to elect an Italian. This was the immediate cause of the Great Western Papal Schism.
1503 Julius II 10 hours. One month after the last conclave. Julius was known as "Il Papa Terribile," "Il Papa Guerriero." Rebuilt St. Peter's Basilica, commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
1939 Pius XII Shortest of the 20th century. 3 ballots! Pius may have been elected on the second ballot; legend has it that he asked for a third, just to make sure that he really did have a two-thirds majority.
1958 John XXIII 11 ballots, 3 days.
1963 Paul VI 6 ballots, 2 days.
1978 John Paul I 4 ballots, 1 day. Insufferable heat in the Sistine Chapel, with windows closed. No thrones; long tables instead.
1978 John Paul II 10 ballots, 3 days. First Polish pope and "the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI, who reigned from 1522 to 1523"[1] (455 years).
2005 Benedict XVI 4 ballots, 1 day.