Conclave Plans Get Underway

With the shock of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation beginning to wear off, the Vatican is getting to work on the business of preparing for the election of a new pope.

The Catholic News Service (CNS) is reporting that the official “interregnun” – which is the period of time between popes – will begin at 8:00 p.m. Rome time on February 28.

The rules of the interregnun, which are matters of church law, not dogma, stipulate that as long as the Holy See is vacant, the Church is government by the College of Cardinals. While they cannot make decisions normally reserved to the pope, they will deal with “ordinary business and matters which cannot be postponed.” All other matters will be handled by the new pope when elected.

The Roman Curia, which comprises the Vatican’s administrative offices, will lose most of its cardinal supervisors and will not be handling any new business during this time.

The entire College of Cardinals, which consists of 209 prelates, is being asked to meet in Rome to help administer the transition period.

“Only those cardinals under age 80 will be eligible to vote in the coming conclave,” CNS reports. “Cardinals who are age 80 or over by the time the ‘sede vacante’ begins Feb. 28 are excluded from the closed-door proceedings. There will be 117 cardinal-electors on that date.”

It will be the responsibility of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, to prepare for the conclave, a Latin word which means “with key”, referring to the old tradition of locking the Cardinals in an area from which they cannot emerge until a new pope is elected.

The date of the conclave has not yet been set, but it will begin with the cardinal-electors attending Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning, and proceeding in procession to the Sistine Chapel in the afternoon. There may be time for one ballot to be cast on the first day, but normally four ballots are cast each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

All votes are cast secretly, in writing and on paper ballots, and are burned at the end of each day using special chemicals which produce either black or white smoke. Black smoke signifies an inconclusive vote while white smoke means a new pope has been elected.

A pope is elected only after he obtains a two-thirds majority.

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