How is a New Pope chosen?

Thousands of people flock to St. Peter’s square in Rome to celebrate the announcement of the new Pope. The moment white smoke comes out from the chimney stack of the Vatican everyone knows that the new Pope is elected. The smoke signals that the hours of the election are finally over. People elated at the prospect burst into cheers of joy for their new church leader. The nominal person on the street though has no clue that it takes many hours of debate and meetings to decide who will be the new Pope. Here we reveal how a new Pope gets elected. How the Roman Catholic church acquires a new Pontiff.

It is the oldest voting system in the world, and many of its traditions have been unaffected for spans of decades. The Conclave which accurately means “locked with a key”, takes us back to a time when Cardinals were locked in till they chose a new pope. The election will take place amongst locked doors.

The meeting begins with a morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the afternoon the 150 Cardinals, those under 80 years old enter the Sistine Chapel and take a pledge of secrecy. The automatic penalty of excommunication will come into effect if they break their promise. After receiving the promise of confidentiality, preparations are made for the election by secret ballots. The Cardinals cast their lots. They choose three Cardinals that will collect the votes, three more cardinals to count the votes and three others to assess the results. Printed on the ballots the words “Eligo in Summum Pontificem”, which means,“I elect as Supreme Pontiff”.

Each voter writes the name of one applicant on the lower half of the ballot and folds it in half. Cardinals are not permitted to vote for themselves. Then in order, the superior Cardinals take their ballots to the altar. Each places the folded ballot onto a small disk, and then the ballot is dropped into a cup. Once launching the votes calculated, and the results announced, more than two-thirds of the majority is needed to declare a winner in this case. There must be 77 votes, and if there is no winner, this means that two more votes are still scheduled to take place during the afternoon. Voting lasts up to four ballots each day until there is a victor.


The tickets will burn after each session in an incinerator inside the chapel. If there is no victor, they burn the votes with a chemical that gives off black smoke showing the crowds on ST. Peters square that the choice of Pope still has to take place. If there is no decision, the Cardinals withdraw for a day of prayer. They will only vote for the new Pope deciding between the two names already taken. When the winner is elected, he will be asked: “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff”? If the answer is yes, then the Pope takes on a new name. He goes into a small room to put on his new Papal clothing. Changing his red clothes for white ones.

When there are a winner white smoke and the ringing of bells, signals to the Cardinals and the excited crowd at St. Peters square, that they have chosen a new Pontiff to lead the church. The new Pope will appear in the balcony to announce a blessing over the people and hopefully a short speech.