by Chris Bowers, Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 07:53:06 AM EDT
The conclave will begin a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of 20 days after the pope's death. Before it starts, cardinals are likely to make quiet soundings over meals, even though formal politicking is strictly forbidden. By the time the cardinals are locked up for the conclave--the term itself comes from the Latin words for "with a key"--the whole world's attention will be riveted on "the greatest show on earth," as veteran Vatican correspondent John L. Allen describes it.(...)
Yet it will be a great show with no inside access. Everyone involved, down to the housekeepers and cooks, will be sworn to secrecy and face excommunication if they break that vow--much to the frustration of the thousands of journalists on hand.(...)
The balloting is elaborately choreographed: one ballot on the first day, four ballots each in the following days. The cardinals write out their choice on a piece of paper headed by the Latin words for "I elect as Supreme Pontiff." The ballots are tallied, and the number must equal the 117 electors (cardinals older than 80 cannot vote). If not, the ballots are burned and a new vote is taken. At the end of each day, all the ballots are burned, with black smoke signaling that no one has won the required two-thirds support for election. If someone is elected, a chemical substance is added to produce white smoke. In a revision of the rules, Pope John Paul II allowed for a switch to a majority vote if no one is elected after about 12 days.The lack of inside information is particularly disappointing to me, since I really have a soft spot for ancient representative structures. Still, I really doubt that we will have an idea of what direction the new Pope will take the Catholic Church in until at least a year or two after his election.