The pope-picking process

By on April 13, 2005

Regardless of their religious affiliation, most people have knowledge of who the pope is and how he resides in Vatican City. However, the role of the pope can be unclear to non-Catholics and Catholics alike.

According to, the pope is the Catholic bishop and patriarch of Rome. He is the head of Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches.

The past few weeks have caused major changes in the Catholic Church, with the loss of Pope John Paul II, and the upcoming election of a new pope, there is a certain mystery of what exactly is going on within the walls of Vatican City.

While generally thought of as the most spiritually, pious and person closest to God, he also serves as a government official for the sovereign of Vatican City, a recognized state by international law.

According to the Catholic Church and the Dogmatic Constitution, the Pope “is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment” and that “the sentence of the apostolic see [than which there is no higher authority] is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment there upon.”

The Catholic Church believes in the concept of “Papal infallibility.” According to, “Papal infallibility” is that the Pope’s beliefs are supreme and inspired by the Holy Spirit. This allows him to have not only influence in religious aspects of life, but also political authority among the masses.

On a daily basis, the pope travels across the world giving blessings and lectures and spreading the word of the Catholic Church.

Since the recent death of Pope John Paul II the position has been in “sede vacante,” or vacant. There will be a conclave to conduct an election for a new pope starting April 18. Cardinals and other clergy men are literally locked in the Sistine Chapel for an election deciding who will fill the position of pope.

According to, during the conclave, selected Cardinals distribute and collect ballots, while electors write the name of their choice and says aloud, “one whom under God I think ought to be elected,” then places it in a chalice.

After the collection, a selected Cardinal strings together all the ballots and counts them. They repeat this process until there is a two-thirds majority. Sometimes this election process can go into a deadlock of days, even weeks. After the ballots are tied together they are placed in a chimney, which sends smoke out to St. Peter’s Square. Unsuccessful votes send black smoke, and when the new pope is decided, white smoke is sent into the air.

The new pope is led into a dressing room, dressed and announced to the public. In the past the pope took the Papal Oath, which is “an Oath against modernism,” however, the past two popes have refused.

While the intricate details of the Catholic Church and papacy are vast, the next few weeks will bring great change and hopefully better understanding of Catholicism.


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