Papal Election 2013

PeterKeyAs most folks know (unless you’ve been asleep for the last week or so) Pope Benedict XVI retired as head of one of the world’s oldest institutions – The Roman Catholic Church. He was the first Pope to retire from the Office of Peter since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, and the first Pope to leave of his own volition since Pope Celestine V in 1294.
 
So begins the process of electing Pope Benedict’s successor. The ancient practice of the conclave gathers the church’s Cardinals (each of whom potentially could be elected Pope) and is set to begin on Tuesday, March 12. The word conclave comes from two Latin words meaning “with a key.” This gives reference to the fact that once the Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel and the phrase "extra omens" has been proclaimed (this means “everyone out”) the doors are then locked and the voting begins. All under the watchful eye of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, "The Last Judgement."
 
A two-thirds majority vote is necessary for the election of the new Pope. Voting will take place twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon until a decision has been rendered. If no one is elected the ballots will be burned and black smoke will appear from the chimney at the Vatican. When a new pope has been chosen, a plume of white smoke announces that a decision has been made.
 
Much speculation has been made about who will be the next Pope and where he will come from. Of the 115 eligible Cardinals, 11 are from Africa, 9 are from Asia, 19 are from Latin America, 14 are from North America, 61 are from Europe, and one from Oceania. The Catholic Church is going through a transformation as the majority of its members now reside in Latin America and Africa. The church has seen much of its recent growth from these regions. Will the new leader reflect this change and direction of the church? We will have to wait to find out. 

In the meantime, visit DC Public Library for more information on the process of the conclave, papal elections, and the history of the papacy.

-- S. McDermott