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The Conclave

The Conclave

Автор Anura Guruge

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The Conclave

Автор Anura Guruge

873 страницы
15 часов
15 янв. 2021 г.


"Everything you ever wanted to know about conclaves (and papal transitions)" would not be a good description for this book. That, however, would not have been enough of a challenge for the author. What motivates him is arcana, demographics, obscurity, data analysis, history & trivia. Hence, a better description for this book would be "Everything you never realized you wished to know about conclaves (and papal transitions)". Hopefully, that gives you a flavor of what is in store.

It is detailed enough that all Catholic cardinals will find it of value – as was the case with the author's "The Next Pope 2011" book – which listed Jorge Mario Bergoglio (i.e., Pope Francis) on page 4 as a 'The Top Ten Papabili' two-years ahead of the 2013 conclave.This book builds upon, expands, embellishes, updates, refines & burnishes the wealth of sede vacante (i.e., papal vacancy) information & data that appeared in that book. In addition, this book includes all that happened during Pope Benedict XVI's reign and resignation, as well as Pope Francis' election and subsequent innovations, e.g., elevation of the 'irregular' cardinal bishops. The mode of presentation was also changed to deliver the information 'broadband' albeit in a structured, graduated and granular manner – i.e., lots of bullet points, summaries, tables, etc. The reader can easily pick and choose a path through the book. It does not have to be read sequentially.

The 'Table of Contents' and the liberal use of 'topic headings' will provide ample navigational clues. Exploit online browing features to peruse some of the pages and 'front matter'. You are unlikely to be disappointed. This book was not written for monetary gain, instead it was all about posterity. It is the author's 34th book and his 12th related to popes. It was a book he had not intended to write. He was toying with an autobiographical book, but felt the call of destiny. With his 'Papal Names' book he had compiled a body of unique research that would gainfully serve future generations. He felt that he had to do something similar re. conclaves. Hence, this book. A book that is intended to be a credible baseline reference on all aspects of conclaves up to and including the conclave to elect Pope Francis' successor. This is the 4th edition of this book -- published in November 2020. It very well might be the last edition since the author, yet again, is moving onto write about his other interests.

15 янв. 2021 г.

Об авторе

Anura Gurugé is an independent technical consultant who specializes in all aspects of contemporary networking, corporate portals and Web services – particularly if they involve IBM host systems. He has first hand, in-depth experience in Web-to-host, SNA, Frame Relay, Token-Ring switching and ATM. He was the founder and Chairman of the SNA-Capable i·net Forum in 1997. He also teaches graduate and post-graduate computer technology and marketing at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) – Laconia/Gilford and Portsmouth campuses. He is the author of Corporate Portals Empowered with XML and Web Services (Digital Press, 2002). In addition, he has published over 320 articles. In a career spanning 29 years, he has held senior technical and marketing roles in IBM, ITT, Northern Telecom, Wang and BBN. His Web sites are: www.inet-guru.com and www.wownh.com.

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The Conclave - Anura Guruge


Copyright © 2020, Anura Gurugé.

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

First published, as a paperback, in February 2020.

This the 4th paperback edition published in November 2020.

First eBook version published in January 2021.


New Hampshire



Photographic Credits:

All of the images used in the body of this book are from the public domain (e.g., Wikipedia). The cover picture, of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, as well as many of the chapter ‘headers’, are from Pixabay, a wonderful resource for stunning, high-quality, royalty-free stock photos.



Don Salvador Miranda,

once of ‘Florida International University’,

the creator of the stupendously valuable

‘Cardinals Website’.

My friend & mentor.

Much of my work on the papacy

was only possible because I

was able to stand on his shoulders.


SNA: Theory and Practice

Reengineering IBM Networks

Integrating TCP/IP i-nets with IBM Data Centers

Corporate Portals Empowered with XML and Web Services

Web Services: Theory and Practice

Popes and the Tale of Their Names (ebook now available)

The Next Pope

The Next Pope 2011

The Last 9 Conclaves

The Last 10 Conclaves: 2013 to 1903

The Election of the 2013 Pope

Pope Names for the 2013 Conclave

Pope John XXIII: 101 Facts & Trivia

Popes: 101 Facts & Trivia

Pope Francis’ U.S. Visit – 2015

Electing the Next Pope

Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON)

Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON): Quick Reference

Comet ISON for Kids

Comets: 101 Facts & Trivia

Comets (two editions published in 2020)

Devanee’s Book of Dwarf Planets

Matthew’s Book of 4 Vesta the would be Planet

Orgasms: 101 Facts & Trivia

Teischan’s ABC Book of Great Artists

A Pup is NOT a Toy

Quick & Easy Meditation

Brain Meditation – For True Productivity & Serenity

Quick Guide to Brain Meditation

Central Pain Syndrome – Chronic, Confounding Pain Such As That Of Fibromyalgia

A ‘Think’ A Day, Keeps Alzheimer’s At Bay (two versions: Big & Thin)

THINK A Day – 2019

Anu’s Camera Crib Sheet.

All available worldwide—online.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents



I. An Overview of the Parameters

II. Data Points: Conclaves

III. Data Points: Electees

IV. Data Points: Cardinals & The College

V. Cardinals

VI. College of Cardinals

VII. The Applicable Laws

VIII. General & Particular Congregations

IX. The Start Of The Conclave

X. Officials & Support

XI. The Election Process

XII. When A Pope Is Elected

XIII. Papal Names

Appendix A: 2013 & 2005 Sede Vacantes—Officers & Timeline

Appendix B: The Last 10 Conclaves, 2013 to 1903

Appendix C: List Of Popes In Chronological Order

Appendix D: Popes From Religious Orders

Select References

Crowning of Martin V on November 14, 1417, in Constance (Germany), following the only bona fide conclave that included non-cardinals as electors. This election, however, was to bring to an end the Great Western Schism. c. 1464 painting by an unknown artist. Found in Ulrich of Richenthal’s chronicles of the ‘Council of Constance’.


‘Madame, I trust you understand that the papal conclave

is not exactly a beauty contest.’

—John XXIII (1958)

upon hearing, while walking through Rome,

a women comment on his ample proportions.

‘If someone had told me I would be Pope someday,

I would have studied harder.’

—John Paul I (1978)

This book is an attempt to bring together all aspects of papal conclaves – history, traditions, laws, norms, conventions, demographics & procedures – into a single point of reference, in English, and do so in a graduated, not too dense manner to facilitate comprehension. It strives to be a comprehensive guidebook for the curious, though as with a couple of my previous works this book may also end up at the Vatican as a useful reference.

This, as the saying goes, was a tale I had to tell. I had not meant or wanted to write this book! I thought I was done with conclaves and books to do with popes. I was trying to get down to writing a book about my childhood in Sri Lanka, but this book kept on calling me. And I know why. I had to share and preserve all the conclave-related data that I had collected, learnt and analyzed for over twelve-years. It appeared to be irresponsible, possibly even a tad churlish, to let this hard-wrought information dissipate – when I was still capable of fashioning it into a book. That was the impetus for this book.

I am not writing this for financial gain. I haven’t, sour grapes maybe it, bothered to write for gain since my ‘retirement’ many years ago. I wrote this book in the hope of helping others to appreciate and enjoy the rich pageantry of conclave lore and law without having to do all the research and analysis that I had already done. With luck, others will, in the future, build upon what I have compiled here. Hence, this, in terms of work related to conclaves, is meant to be a stake in the sand.

My ‘The Next Pope 2011’ did its job. Per the basic premise of the book I named my top 10 papabili in the first chapter. One of my ten picks happened to be Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. And that was two-years ahead of the 2013 conclave. This book, as was intended, proved to be in high demand from the moment Benedict XVI announced his intent to resign. It, however, had not been lost on the cognoscenti even prior to this. The Vatican Press Office had a copy of it in its library as a reference source for journalists. Suffice to say I received numerous calls from the media throughout the sede vacante and the days that followed. I have also been told that there is at least one copy of my ‘Popes and the Tale of Their Names’ at the Vatican.

The conclave-related data that I had amassed for ‘The Next Pope 2011’ was my starting point for this book. But, there had been since, at a minimum: a papal resignation (for the first time in nearly 600-years), a motu proprio that set out to ‘normalize’ some of the prior sede vacante norms, another conclave, and the appointment of ‘irregular’ cardinal bishops. Hence, the material from 2011 had to be refreshed and recast. And that I did. I augmented, elaborated upon, updated, refined & clarified what was in the 2011 book. Moreover, and most importantly, I totally reorganized the data presentation aspect. I strived to make it as accessible and as easy as I could conceive (always aware that I might still fall short).

My hope is that you will not have any issues in working out how to navigate through this book and how best to mine the data included within it. Wherever possible, starting with chapter 1, I tried to employ graduation – i.e., expanding on the data, in multiple steps, starting with an overview before diving into the details. The organization and structure of this book should be self-evident. The chapter headings and the liberal use of sub-titles should help. I also tried to keep chapter sequence as logical as possible – and in conformity with the chronology of what transpires during a sede vacante. I hope you concur, or at least find that you are not totally at sea.

Unlike some of my other papal books this has been in the main a solo venture. Given that I was au fait with so much of ‘it’, I refrained from imposing on others. But, Mark Trauernicht, of Alexandria, VA, a genuine expert on all matters papal & Catholic, was an invaluable help in proofing this rather large book. So did my wife. I am very grateful to both of them. Nonetheless, as always, I must mention that ‘typos’ is my middle name. I do my level best to avoid them, but a book by I would not be genuine if it was typo-free! Hence, I apologize in advance to any distress I might cause you. ‘I am sorry. It was not intentional’. I hope you find this book interesting, illuminating and far from irksome. Hopefully, some may even consider it rewarding.

I am not too hard to find on the Web. I typically tend to be responsive and do check my e-mail. So, you can try and contact me at: anu@wownh.com. Grace, and may peace be with you.

Anura Gurugé

Lakes Region, New Hampshire

July 2020


Updates to this book : Any updates and the inevitable errata for this book will be available on my Website:


Search on ‘the conclave book’ or look for ‘The Conclave’ menu tab at the very top of the page (above the header image). There is also a Facebook page: ‘The Conclave’ at facebook.com/NextConclave/.

Use of highlighting: Different shades of text highlighting has been used extensively and sometimes arbitrarily: (1) for emphasis & (2) to denote ‘value-added’ background details that are not essential to the ongoing narrative. Lighter shading is used for emphasis while the darker shading denotes the background material. Occasionally shading is also used to break up the text.

Use of italics: I use italics liberally and definitely more than most, though not as capriciously as it may initially come across. Italics are primarily used: (1) for (added) emphasis, (2) to indicate non-English words or (3) to signify incongruity.

‘Words’ (‘phrases’) in quotation marks: I use them, outside of their conventional setting, to: (1) indicate ‘names’, (2) when a term is being used differently to its ‘base’ meaning, e.g., ‘dean’ (to denote actual or acting dean), (3) if a ‘word’ is being used as an ‘abbreviation’, e.g., ‘Master’ to signify ‘Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations’, (4) to delineate the entirety of a title or phrase (as in the case of long official Vatican titles just mentioned) or (5) occasionally to attract attention. q.v., ‘Conventions’ below.

Names of popes in ‘bold’: The first appearance of a pope’s name in a given section of a narrative will be bolded for attention. Given the role of the popes in the tale being told in this book, the bolding is meant to make sure they stand out within the narrative.

Number of recognized popes (i.e., 267): For consistency with a number of online lists of popes, in particular the one found on Wikipedia, this book, as do all of my other papal books, recognizes 267 popes – with Francis (2013) being the 267th pope. This number is one higher than what others use as their official number. This discrepancy exists due to the four-day long papacy of the original Stephen (II) (#92, 752). This Stephen was acknowledged as a legitimate pope by the Vatican for 400-years – up until 1961. But he was then struck from the list because he had died prior to being consecrated as the Bishop of Rome. Older references still include him. There are also those who feel that he should be included given that he was an elected and acknowledged pope per the practices of his time. Consequently, the current papal count can vary between 264 to 267, depending on how one treats Stephen II and the three terms of Benedict IX (#146, #148 & #151, 1032 to 1048). Thus, the differences in the numbers used in various lists are due to:

267 = includes the original Stephen II and Benedict IX’s 3 terms.

266 = without the original Stephen II, but with 3 entries for Benedict IX.

265 = with the original Stephen II, but with Benedict IX listed just once.

264 = without the original Stephen II and with Benedict IX listed but once.

The inclusion of Stephen II in this book should not cause any problems or misunderstandings since his inclusion is consistently stated throughout the book.

Sequencing the popes: This book is not meant just for papal aficionados. As such there will be readers who are not that familiar with all or even most of the popes – and may only know, in terms of exact sequencing, the ‘recent’ popes. Sequencing, either in terms of when they were elected, e.g., (1958), or their relative standing, e.g., (#262), is thus an attempt to provide valuable context – when the narrative is bereft of chronological clues. Depending of what is deemed most appropriate, at that juncture, either ‘date of election’, ‘sequence number’ or both will be included after a pope’s name – always in parenthesis. ‘Sequence number’ is always quoted with a # while date of election will be in italics. Examples, Pius IX (1846), Pius XI (#260) & Pius X (#258, 1903).

Inclusion of papal veneration: With the exception of St. Peter (#1), papal veneration titles, e.g., ‘Saint (St.)’, ‘Blessed (Bl.)’ or ‘Venerable (Ven.)’, are not included in the main textual narrative of this book. This is to preserve the historical integrity and context of the narrative. Veneration only occurs posthumously. Thus, referring to a pope as ‘St.’ or ‘Bl.’ when describing him during the course of his reign can be confusing – and can sometimes even sound incongruous. The anachronistic nature of this veneration can distort the contemporaneous standing of a pope during his lifetime. For example, Celestine V was not a ‘saint’ when he abdicated in December 1294 and was subsequently imprisoned. His canonization occurred eighteen years later at the behest of the King of France, who wanted it not to venerate Celestine, but so as to discredit Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII (#194). As of December 2019, there are eighty-two popes that have been canonized [i.e., are Saints] and nine who have been beatified [i.e., to be referred to as ‘Blessed’]. The list of popes in Appendix C designates all ninty-one of these popes with the relevant ‘St.’ and ‘Bl.’ veneration.

Navigating this book: This book can be read conventionally, chapter by chapter from start to finish. But it does not have to be. Each chapter, and in essence, each section is self-contained and can be read, comprehended and savored independently. Thus, it is indeed possible to use this book in ‘lucky dip’ mode. If read in this manner, the numerous headings & sub-headings, lists and tables found throughout the book could serve as guideposts. There is also a select index that should help those who want to pursue a particular reference or theme.

Conventions used in this book:

Common abbreviations

‘Dean’ – Senior most cardinal, subject to 80-year cut-off criteria when in conclave.

Domus’ – Domus Sanctae Marthæ.

Eligendo Paul VI’s 1973 Romano Pontifici Eligendo constitution.

‘Master’—‘Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations.

MOC – Masters of Ceremonies.

NN – Benedict XVI’s 2013 Normas Nonnullas motu proprio.

‘Secretary’ – Secretary of the Conclave/College of Cardinals.

s.v. sede vacante

UDG – John Paul II’s 1996 Universi Dominici Gregis constitution.

Summary of the Last 16 Vacancies

of the Apostolic See

The Last 16 Popes

to be Elected



ACCESSION [ELECTION BY]: Ability of electors to switch their vote to another candidate at the end of an unsuccessful round of balloting in the hope that a front-runner could reach the requisite majority. This electoral maneuver, used as recently as the 19th century, ceased to be possible as of 1945 when balloting became truly secret.

ACCLAMATION [ELECTION BY]: A now defunct ‘voice-vote’ based papal electoral scheme. This was when the electors, in conclave, clamorously proclaim, in near union, without coercion, that they choose a particular candidate as pope. A candidate thus acclaimed by a large enough majority of the electors used to be deemed the new pope.  Such an acclamation of a candidate could occur once the results of a round of balloting was announced. It, à la ‘accession’, was a bypass process to bring an election to an end and avoid the need for another round of balloting. Given the inspirational aspect of this process, it also used to be known in earlier times as ‘election by inspiration’. This process was invalidated in 1996 in John Paul II’s (1978) Universi Dominici Gregis Apostolic Constitution.

ADORATION [ELECTION BY]: In essence a variant of ‘acclamation’, typically occurring before there was any voting, whereby all the electors, uniformly and without coercion, concurred verbally on who they wanted as their next pope. This process, like acclamation, was invalidated in 1996 in John Paul II’s (1978) Universi Dominici Gregis Apostolic Constitution.

ANTIPOPE: A supposed ‘pope’ whose legitimacy has been repudiated by the Church. A rival claimant to the papacy. No definitive list per se, but there have been close to 40 or slightly more. The last to be deemed as such by the Vatican was Felix (V), 1439 to 1449.

APOSTOLIC: Pertaining in some form to the twelve Apostles, but in the context of popes, in particular to St. Peter (#1), but also to all popes (and anything papal), given that popes are deemed to be the direct, legitimate successors of St. Peter – the ‘chosen’ Apostle.

APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION: The most significant and legally binding of papal decrees reserved for topics of major import. As of 1904 it has been used to specify the norms of a sede vacante – the 1996 Universi Dominici Gregis being the most recent.

APOSTOLIC PALACE: The official residence of the reigning pope. Currently it refers to a rambling, amalgamation of buildings in the Vatican that include the Papal Apartments, a number of chapels including the Sistine, curial offices, the Vatican Library, the strikingly frescoed ‘Raphael Rooms’, and some museums – though the current pope, Francis (2013), following his election opted to stay in a suite at the Domus Sanctae Marthæ rather than take up residence in the Papal Apartments. The papal residences at Castel Gandolfo & the Lateran (in Rome) are also sometimes referred to, incorrectly be it, as such.

APOSTOLIC SEE: Any see said to have been founded by an Apostle. In the context of the popes, it applies to the see of Rome founded by Saints Paul and Peter.

AVIGNON [SOUTHERN FRANCE]: The residence of the popes during the ‘Avignon Papacy’, which lasted from 1309 to 1377 and spanned seven successive popes (& two antipopes) from France.

BIRETTA: A stiff, square cap with 3 or 4 upright ridges or peaks that can be worn by any member of the Roman Catholic clergy. Those worn by cardinals are scarlet red and made of silk. Post Vatican II, i.e., 1965, this, rather than a galero, is the ‘red hat’ in the context of cardinals.

BISHOP OF ROME: The Bishop of Rome is the Catholic pope and the pope is always the Bishop of Rome. This is a fixed, inviolable, one-to-one relationship that has existed for at least 1,700 years. Being the bishop of the Apostolic see founded by St. Peter (#1) is the basis for the legitimacy, authority and primacy afforded to the pope, as St. Peter’s successor.

BLACK NOBILITY: Roman aristocratic families that faithfully stood by (and with) the popes during the time of the Italian Unification and then joined the popes in their mourning and self-imposed isolation while the ‘Roman Question’ was being resolved.

BULL: A papal document, typically of a very solemn and formal nature – where the name comes from the lead stud (or boss), i.e., Latin bulla, attached to the document.

CAMERLENGO OF THE HOLY ROMAN CHURCH: A senior cardinal, appointed by the pope, who bears the responsibility (with specified, specific duties) for establishing the pope’s demise, arranging the funeral and organizing the conclave to elect the next pope. The term means ‘Chamberlain’. He acts as the Vatican’s and conclave’s CEO during a sede vacante.

CAMERLENGO OF THE SACRED COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: A different post altogether from that of the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church. This chamberlain was the treasurer for the College, in charge of managing its revenues and assets. This post ceased to be as of 1995 given that the modern College owns little, if any, material assets.

CANON LAW: The collection of ratified ecclesiastical laws and regulations for the governance of the Church and its members.

CAPITULATION: A set of written conditions, pledged to by all of the cardinals at the start of a conclave, specifying provisos that the new pope ‘promises’ to adhere to. A 14th century innovation (in the main, ineffective) by cardinals hoping to have some control over the actions of the pope they are about to elect. Now outlawed. Last used in the 17th century.

CARDINAL: ‘Prince of the Church’, the most senior of the ecclesiastical officials in the Catholic Church, created exclusively by the pope, with special, singular responsibility for electing popes and serving as their advisors – though, only those under the age of 80 can now act as electors. The term is from the Latin for ‘hinge’, cardo – and thus denoted, c. 4th century, clerics upon whom the future of Christianity hinged upon. There are three categories or ‘orders’ of cardinal:  cardinal bishop, cardinal priest and cardinal deacon. These ‘orders’ and the resultant ranking only applies within the College of Cardinals and is purely for ceremonial purposes – all cardinals, unless explicitly exempted, having to be consecrated bishops as of 1962.

CARDINAL NEPHEW: A nepotistic practice, much favored by popes in the Middle Ages, of appointing a male relative, typically a nephew (or in some cases a son) as a cardinal. Between 1566 and 1692 the ‘cardinal nephew’ was the de facto Secretary of State.

CARDINALATE: The office, tenure, standing or station of a cardinal.

CASTEL GANDOLFO: A small town, 18 miles SE of Rome, overlooking Lake Albano, where the popes have had a summer residence since the 17th century.

CODE OF CANON LAW: A rationalized and augmented codification of the prior corpus of Church ordinance that was first unveiled in 1917 and came into force as of May 19, 1918. A revised version, for the Western Church, came into effect as of November 23, 1983.

COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: The collegiate body of all Catholic cardinals, irrespective of their age or ‘employment’ status [i.e., even if they have retired from their day-to-day pastoral or curial duties].

CONCLAVE: From the Latin cum clave (with a key), the notion of sequestering the cardinal electors for the duration of a papal election in the hope of achieving a speedy conclusion devoid of external interference and distractions.

CONCLAVIST: The aides that accompanied cardinals into a conclave to take care of their personal needs. These were supplanted by a common set of support personnel as of 1975.

CONGREGATIONS [CURIAL]: A curial department with specific jurisdiction headed by a cardinal with a title of ‘prefect’. There are nine such congregations, the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith being one.

CONGREGATIONS [SEDE VACANTE]: A gathering, exclusively of cardinals, that serves as a parliamentary decision-making body during a sede vacante. There are two types:  general and particular. The former, to be attended by all cardinals, meets daily prior to the conclave. Particular congregations consist of just 4 members, the Camerlengo and three assistants, chosen by lot, one from each of the cardinal ‘orders’, who serve 3-day terms. Particular congregations can meet during the conclave.

CONSISTORY: Formal meetings between the pope and the cardinals, always convened by the pope, to discuss Church matters or to create new cardinals. From the Latin consistorium for ‘sitting together’. They can be ‘ordinary’ or ‘extraordinary’. All cardinals are expected to attend those of the latter, while only those in Rome need attend the others – though all are invited. At the pope’s discretion, non-cardinals, by invitation, may be permitted to be present at certain ordinary consistories.

CORONATION: The crowning ceremony for newly elected popes that was eliminated in 1978 by John Paul I.

COUNCIL: A formal gathering of church prelates to discuss and resolve specific issues.

CURIA (ROMAN): The executive and administrative bureaucracy of the Holy See that enables the pope to govern the Roman Catholic Church. The term is from the Latin for ‘court’.

CURIAL: Pertaining to the Roman curia.

CURIALIST: In the context of this book, refers to one who works within the Roman curia (other definitions, in essence, still stem from this association).

DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: The cardinal bishop who is the ceremonial head (or president) of the College of Cardinals. Prior to 1965 the senior most of the cardinal bishops would become the Dean. But now the cardinal bishops elect one from among them to be Dean – subject to papal approval. In 2019 a five-year term limit to the ‘deanship’ was introduced, renewable by the pope if appropriate. Both these measures were to increase the possibility of ‘younger’ Deans, given that even the Dean cannot participate in a conclave if over the age of 80. Per tradition going back to the earliest days of the College (and now also per Canon law) the Dean always is the titular Bishop of Ostia [Roman suburb] – in addition to any other title he already held.

DELEGATION [ELECTION BY]: Another bygone papal election mechanism, popular in the 13th century, where the electors, in unanimity, unequivocally entrust the power to elect the next pope to a select subset of their members.

DEACONRY: Locations from which charitable work, in particular the giving of alms to the poor, were coordinated and executed. Ancient Rome had diaconiae – with a deacon in charge—in addition to churches. This being the basis for cardinal deacons.

DICASTERY: A term that encompasses the major ‘departments’ of the Roman curia, i.e., the Secretariat of State, the Congregations, the Tribunals, the Councils and the Offices. From ancient Greek for ‘judges’.

DOMUS SANCTAE MARTHAE: As of 1996, Saint Martha’s House, a five-story guest house with 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment. Normally used to house prelates visiting the Vatican, it provides lodging and dining facilities for the electors during a conclave. Francis (2013) opted to make one of the suites his official residence rather than move to the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace.

ECUMENICAL COUNCIL: Assembly of bishops across denominations from the entire Christian world, congregated to hopefully resolve, amicably, thorny topical issues pertaining to Christian teachings, beliefs and practices. There are 21 recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, the Second Council of the Vatican (1962 – 1965) the last. The Orthodox Churches, however, only recognize the first seven of these,

EASTERN RITES: See Oriental Rites below.

ELECTOR: A cardinal permitted to participate in a papal election. As of 1971, in order to be an elector, a cardinal had to be under the age of 80 at the start of the sede vacante. The maximum number of electors that can participate in an election, as of 1973, has been set at 120.

ENCYCLICAL [PAPAL]: A letter sent by the pope either to bishops of a specific geography or to all of them across the world dealing with a topical doctrinal, moral, social or remedial issue.

EXCOMMUNICATION: The harshest of ecclesiastical censures whereby a person is deprived of normal interactions, in particular communion, with the Church and its members.

EXTRA OMNES: The ‘everyone out’ call made by the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations prior to the formal start of a conclave.

FISHERMAN’S RING: A signet ring, with the pope’s regnal name appearing around a bas-relief image of St. Peter (#1) fishing from a boat – the Apostle’s being ‘fishers of men’. The name comes from this imagery. It was used until 1842 as the official seal on documents signed by the pope. Hence, why it is still ceremoniously destroyed by the Camerlengo when the pope is pronounced dead. There has never been a requirement that the pope must wear this ring as a part of his regalia. The pope can wear a ring of his choosing.

GALERO: A large, broad-brimmed ecclesiastical hat with dangling tassels that can be worn by cardinals, bishops or priests – with the color and number of tassels varying per rank. That for a cardinal is red with 15-tasseles on each side, that for a bishop green with 6- to 10-tassels per side while that for a priest is black with less than six-tassels per side (depending on seniority). A red galero used to be the tradition ‘red hat’ bestowed on a newly created cardinal. Not so now. They get a biretta instead. Cardinals can still get their own or have one gifted to them. A galero is depicted on the coat of arms of a prelate, and, traditionally, a prelate’s galero is hung over his tomb and left to decay to dust to symbolize his passing.

GREAT WESTERN SCHISM: Period from 1378 to 1417 when there were two, and towards the end three, competing ‘papacies’ – with one ‘camp’ in Rome, the other in Avignon and the third in Pisa [Italy].

HABEMUS PAPAM: The joyous ‘we have a pope’ announcement made by the senior most cardinal deacon from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica following the conclusion of a conclave.

HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR: The German ruler governing the Holy Roman Empire, typically with the blessing of the pope.

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE: A central European empire, during the Middle Ages, under ‘Germanic’ Rule, consisting in the main of territories now associated with Germany, Austria, SE France, Northern Italy and the Netherlands. It came to be either in 800 or 962 and was eventually dissolved in 1806. The pope was the spiritual head of this empire and up to 1530 was responsible for crowning the ‘German’ emperor.

HOLY SEE: The unique Apostolic See of Rome, founded by not one but two Apostles, whose bishop, the pope, is the successor of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter (#1). The term has evolved to embrace the office, the universal jurisdiction of the pope and the Roman curia. This is now embodied in Canon 361 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. It has thus become an overarching term that connotes the central government of the Catholic Church. As such, it is the Holy See that establishes diplomatic relations with other nations (as opposed to the Vatican City State).

INAUGURATION: John Paul I (1978) did away with papal coronations and instituted the notion of papal inaugurations – when the protodeacon vests a new pope pallium to signify his standing as the Metropolitan Bishop of Rome.

IN COMMENDAM: Latin term, in Canon Law, to a practice dating back to the 1st millennia whereby an ecclesiastic benefice is entrusted to a patron on a temporary, ad hoc basis.

IN PECTORE: From the Latin ‘in the breast or heart’. A practice started in the 16th century whereby the pope announces the creation of a new cardinal without disclosing his name. The object is to protect the identity of the appointee, typically from an unfriendly political regime in his home country. If the name is not subsequently disclosed prior to the pope’s death the appointment lapses. Once the name is publicized, the new cardinals seniority within the College of Cardinals is backdated to the initial in pectore announcement. It is this retroactive seniority that makes this worthwhile.

INFIRMARII: Three electors chosen, by lot, for each two-round balloting session, to visit sick electors, who are unable to be present within the Sistine Chapel, so that they can still cast valid ballots ‘remotely’, despite their impediments.

INSPIRATION [ELECTION BY]: The term preferred in the Middle Ages for election by ‘acclamation’.

INTERREGNUM: Literally ‘between reigns’ in Latin, referring to the interim period between successive reigns, whether of a pope, emperor or monarch. In this book it is used to denote the period between successive legitimate papacies, the papal sede vacante.

INTERVENTION: In the context of s.v. General Congregations, any active participation, of consequence, by a cardinal whether it be a question, a response to a question, a speech or presentation.

JUS EXCLUSIVAE: The imperial papal veto, i.e., the right of exclusion, controversially claimed by the sovereigns of France, Spain and Austria to eliminate candidates from consideration at a conclave. This practice was outlawed by Pius X (#258), in 1904.

JUS OPTIONIS: Right of option’, a preferment mechanism within the College of Cardinals.

LATERAN BASILICA: Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Bishop of Rome’s official Cathedral, situated in Rome, as opposed to the Vatican City—though granted extraterritorial privileges so that it falls under the Holly See.

LATERAN PACTS: The three-part accord agreed upon in 1929 between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy that finally resolved and concluded the ‘Roman Question’.

LATERAN PALACE: Situated next to the Basilica, this large building was once the primary papal residence.

MODERNISM: A term used to demarcate the Church’s attitude, c. 1870 to 1930, towards political democracy [post the French Revolution] and the employment of scientific reasoning when it came to religious beliefs.

MOTU PROPRIO: Latin for ‘on his own impulse’. A papal document presenting the pope’s personal view and wishes on a specific topic, signed by the pope – which serves as a papal decree.

Normas Nonnullas (NN): Benedict XVI’s (2005) motu proprio, issued six-days prior to his resignation in 2013, which updates and amends Universi Dominici Gregis the prevailing ‘standing orders’ for sede vacantes and conclaves.

NOVENDIALES/NOVEMDIALES: The nine consecutive days of mourning following the death of a pope, usually starting on the day of the pope’s funeral. A special Mass will be held in the Vatican on each of those days.

NUNCIO [APOSTOLIC or PAPAL]: An ecclesiastical diplomat (or a legate) representing the pope and the Holy See.

ORIENTAL RITES: Churches located, in the main, in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India and North Africa, that are part of the Catholic Church, in communion with the Holy See, despite maintaining some of their own liturgy, beliefs and autonomy. There are 22 churches that fall into this category.

PALLIUM: Woolen, scarf-like vestment with depictions of crosses, worn by the pope, metropolitan archbishops and as of 2002 (irregularly) by the Dean of the College of Cardinals.

PAPABILE: A person considered to be a viable candidate worthy of consideration for the papacy. An unofficial term stemming from the Italian for ‘pope-able’.

PAPABILI: Plural of papabile, thus the slate of the most likely to be the next pope.

PAPACY: The papacy is the office, mission, jurisdiction and the reign [i.e., term of office] of a pope.

PAPAL: Pertaining to the pope or the papacy.

PAPAL STATES: Territory of varying size and boundaries, mainly in central Italy but at some stages also including tracts in and around Avignon [France]. From the 6th century until 1870 this territory was under the sovereignty of the papacy – per the temporal powers of the pope.

PATRIARCH: From the Greek words for ‘father’ and ‘leader’, this was a term initially used for the most senior of the bishops, in particular to those of the Apostolic sees. Today, in addition to the heads of the Oriental Rites Catholic Churches, this title is afforded to the Archbishops of Venice and Lisbon [Portugal], as well as the titular Archbishop of the East Indies.

PAULINE CHAPEL: 16th-century chapel, built by Paul III (1534), across the ‘hall’ from the Sistine. It is used by the electors, during the conclave, as a religious ‘sanctuary’, for Mass and prayer, ahead of them proceedings to the Sistine for their twice-daily balloting sessions. Prior to the commencement of the conclave, the electors, per UDG, gather here before heading, in formal procession, to the Sistine. As of 2013 the newly elected pope has the option of visiting this chapel, for private prayer, prior to making his first public appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Francis (2013) did so, but asked for two cardinals, who were close friends to accompany him.

PONTIFF: Any senior prelate, in particular a bishop. From the Latin ‘Pontifex’ for a ‘bridge builder’. The pope, the Bishop of Rome, is the ‘Roman Pontiff’.

PONTIFICATE: When used as a noun it is in essence a more formal term for ‘papacy’. As a verb, it refers to the administration of the office of a ‘pontiff’.

POPE: From the Greek pappas (for father), it is now primarily used to refer to the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the Catholic Church and the head of state of the Vatican City. [It also connotes the ‘office’ held by the Bishop of Rome.] Until the 3rd century it was routinely used, in its context as ‘father’, to refer to any priest or bishop. The exclusivity it enjoys within the Western (or Latin) Church came to be as of the 11th century when it was so mandated by Pope St. Gregory VII (#158). The term is still used by the (Greek) Orthodox Church of Alexandria as well as the Coptic Orthodox Church to refer to the heads of their respective churches – albeit in concert with the term ‘Patriarch’ and a reference to ‘Alexandria’ [Egypt].

POPE, TITLES: As of March 2006, the pope had eight formal titles:  Bishop of Rome (Episcopus Romanus), Vicar of [Jesus] Christ (Vicarius Christi), Successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles (previously Vicar of Peter), Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church (Pontifex Maximus), Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of Vatican City State, and Servant of the Servants of God (Servus Servorum Dei). The term ‘pope’ is thus informal, albeit still honorific, with the historic and authoritative ‘Bishop of Rome’ being the preeminent of the titles. In April 2020, Pope Francis (2013) deemed the last 7 of these as being ‘historic’! Francis just wished to known as the ‘Bishop of Rome’—which in reality had always been the preeminent of the titles. In 2006, pre-Francis, the designation ‘Patriarch of the West,’ in use since the mid-7th century, was retracted.

PRATTICHE: Informal, ad-hoc discussions among cardinals, ideally just during the sede vacante, as to who would be the best choice as the next pope – and possible strategies for getting that person elected at the conclave.

PRO-: In the context of curial titles it means ‘acting’ or temporary.

PROTO-: First in terms of ranking (i.e., seniority) as in protodeacon.

QUIRINAL PALACE: Located on the hill of that name (the tallest of Rome’s seven hills), it served as of the 16th century as a papal residence, particularly during the summer, until 1870. Then with the unification of Italy and the annexation of Rome, the Palace became the official residence of the King of Italy. It is now the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic.

RED HAT: A large, red, broad-brimmed hat with 15 tassels – called a galero – that, as of 1245, used to be bestowed upon a newly created cardinal. Receiving the ‘red hat’ thus became symbolic with being created a cardinal. Though cardinals can still get one made for display in their cathedral, new cardinals now receive a red biretta rather than a red galero.

REGNAL NAME [PAPAL]: The official name of the pope during his reign, in Latin – where ‘regnal’ is Latin for ‘reign’.

RELIGIOUS ORDER: In the context of the Catholic Church, a religious community or institute whose members adhere to a set of ‘solemn vows’ recognized by the Church (e.g., poverty or ‘stability’ (i.e., committing to staying in on place).

REVISERS [IN PAPAL ELECTIONS]: Three electors chosen by lot, per each two-round balloting session, along with the three scrutineers and infirmarii, to check the tallies and counts made by the scrutineers in order to eliminate the possibility of any errors, omissions or ‘mischief’.

ROMAN QUESTION: A dispute from 1870 until 1929 as to the role, status and standing of the Holy See and the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the Kingdom of Italy once the latter came into being as of around 1861 and the eventual loss of the Papal States.

SACRED COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: The original name for the College of Cardinals, the ‘sacred’ having been dropped with the introduction of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

SCHISM: An acknowledged, far-reaching split in Church unity, with factional leadership.

SCRUTINEER [SCRUTATOR]: Vote reader, tallier and counter during a secret ballot, with three being selected from among the electors, by lot, for each balloting session – with up to two rounds of balloting per session.

SCRUTINY [IN PAPAL ELECTIONS]: The secret balloting process, as specified in the applicable Apostolic Constitution, to be used in conclave for electing the next pope. As of 1996, it is the only permissible mechanism for electing a new pope.

SECRETARY OF THE CONCLAVE: This role is performed by the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, who typically is the papally-appointed Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops. So, come a conclave the same curialist (who is very likely to be made a cardinal by the new pope) ends up doing triple-duty.

SEDE VACANTE: Literally the ‘vacant seat’ in Latin, referring a bishop’s chair (cathedra) being unoccupied – thus, a diocese without a bishop. Within this book it is used exclusively to refer to the Holy See being without its bishop, i.e., the pope. It is the interim period between successive legitimate papacies – the ‘interregnum’.

SEDIA GESTATORIA: Portable throne, held aloft by twelve sturdy footman, used to carry the pope. It was still in use as recently as 1978. [John Paul II, towards the end, used elaborate wheel chairs. But he shunned the sedia gestatoria.]

SEE: The domain of a bishop, with the term referring to the bishop’s sedes (seat).

SFUMATA: The black or white smoke from the temporary Sistine Chapel chimney, produced by the burning of ballot papers, signaling whether a pope was elected or not.

SIMONY: Any attempt to garner a profit from affairs, property or privileges associated with the Church – in particular trying to sell or buy ecclesiastical offices such as bishoprics. The term harks back to Simon ‘the sorcerer’ Magus who according to the Gospels tried to buy the curative powers of ‘laying of hands’ from the Apostles Peter (#1) and John.

SISTINE CHAPEL: Constructed at the behest of Sixtus IV (#213), between 1477 and 1480, to the dimensions attributed to King Solomon’s Temple [Jerusalem, Holy Land]. Per the current norms it has to be the setting in which the secret balloting to elect the next pope is performed. The name refers to its creator, ‘Sixtus’. Sixtus IV’s nephew Julius ‘warrior pope’ II (#217) coerced Michelangelo, in the early 16th century, to fresco the fabled ceiling. The walls are also magnificently frescoed with Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgment’ gracing the altar wall.

SOSTITUTO: Substitute. Vatican vernacular for the second-in-command of a curial ‘office’.

SUBURBICARIAN SEE: Seven Catholic dioceses surrounding Rome, viz., Albano, Frascati, Ostia, Palestrina, Porto-Santa Rufina, Sabina-Poggio Mirteto & Velletri-Segni. Cardinal bishops, by the original definition, were the (titular) bishops of these dioceses. In June 2018 Francis introduced a new category of cardinal bishops by promoting four cardinals (three cardinal priests, the other a cardinal deacon) to this order – though they did not have title to a suburbicarian see. This was a radical innovation to ensure that there was always likely to be at least one under-80 cardinal elector who could preside at a conclave.


SYNOD: Assembly of church leaders, typically convoked by the pope, to address and resolve one or more pressing topical issues.

TIARA [PAPAL]: The three-tier, jeweled crown symbolizing the pope’s powers, which was placed on a new pope’s head at his coronation – and would then be worn during certain ceremonies. Paul VI (#263) was the last to be crowned with a tiara. He relinquished his in 1963. Tiaras have not been used by popes since then. In 2005, Benedict XVI (#266) opted to substitute a mitre for the tiara in his new Coat of Arms. Francis, in 2013, followed suit.

TITULAR: In title only. As of 1969, all cardinals, irrespective of rank or order, only have titular rights to the ‘Roman’ churches and deaconries assigned to them – as opposed to any official administrative, governance or pastoral duties. From ‘titulus’.

TITULUS: One of the early Christian churches in and around Rome, the name probably coming from the inscription (titulus) that identified patron benefactors of that church.

UBI PERICULUM: Gregory X’s (#185) landmark 1274 constitution that established the need and initial framework for conclaves.

UNIVERSI DOMINICI GREGIS (UDG): John Paul II’s (1978) 1996 Apostolic Constitution promulgating the current norms for the sede vacante, conclaves and papal elections. Still in effect though with amendments by Benedict XVI’s (2005) Normas Nonnullas motu proprio of February 2013.

URBI ET ORBI: The traditional, public blessing to the city of Rome and the world given by a newly elected pope when he makes his debut appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s.

VATICAN CITY STATE: The Vatican City, as of 1929, is a sovereign state, landlocked within Rome, ruled, absolutely, by the pope. It is also, since 1929, the permanent home of the Holy See and the pope’s official abode. Its official name is the ‘State of the Vatican City’, and it is a distinct entity from the Holy See.

VATICAN COUNCIL II [VATICAN II]: The 21 Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, convened by Bl. John XXIII (#262), which lasted from October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965, and set out to reform some of the entrenched centralization, rigor and liturgical practices of the Church.

VITERBO: An ancient city, 60 miles north of Rome, long popular with popes, particularly when there was unrest in Rome.

ZUCCHETTO: Skullcap worn by Roman Catholic clergy; the pope’s is white, those of cardinals are red.


An Overview

of the Parameters

The Sistine Chapel is in the foreground, at a slight diagonal, long-&-narrow.

THE CONCLAVE: 30,000’ View,

With No Caveats Nor Elaboration

Caveats and elaborations follow.

Purpose: To legally elect the next pope via secret balloting, the electors being sequestered for the duration. Nothing more, nothing less.

Participants: Up to 120 cardinal electors (i.e., those under 80-years of age), along with numerous (close to ninety) non-cardinal officials & ‘support staff’. The non-cardinals are only present at specific designated places and times. They can never be in the Sistine Chapel during the actual balloting. Only the cardinal electors, in conclave, are permitted to vote. There is no specified minimum quorum as to the number of cardinal electors required for a valid papal election – but realistically it is probably three given the mandatory requisite majority.

When: The conclave must convene sometime between ‘a few-days’ (e.g., 10) to 21-days following the start of the sede vacante; the start being on the 15th full-day after the sede vacante the modern norm.

Duration: As long as it takes, until the new pope is publicly announced, with no time limits whatsoever. The new pope can extend the conclave if he wishes to spend some private time with the cardinals that elected him. The last five conclaves were over within three-days; three of them in two-days. The conclave of 1799—1800 lasted 105-days.

Where: At the Vatican: Sistine Chapel & Domus Sanctae Marthæ in the main.

Applicable Laws: The 1996 Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG) Apostolic Constitution updated with two Benedict XVI motu proprios from 2007 & 2013.

Officials: Cardinals (4)—Camerlengo, Dean of the College of Cardinals, senior most Cardinal Deacon & junior most Cardinal Deacon.

Non-Cardinals (10) —Secretary of the College of Cardinals, Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations & eight Masters of Ceremonies from the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. [Two technicians are also on hand to electronically ‘sweep’ the buildings for unauthorized electronic devices.]

Voting: Exclusively by secret ballot – with no exceptions, whatsoever.

Requisite Majority: Two-thirds majority of the votes cast in a given ballot (rounded up), with no exceptions whatsoever.

Who Can Be Elected: Realistically, a cardinal under the age of eighty.

Figure 1: The silver and gilded bronze urn into which the electors place their ballot papers. They push against the ‘Good Shepard’ figure on the top to open the lid. It was created, per a commission from the Vatican, by Italian sculptor Cecco Bonanotte ahead of the 2005 conclave. There are two companion urns, less elaborate, that are also used during the balloting. One serves as an interim receptacle when the ballots are checked for an over- or under-count. The other is for collecting ballots from indisposed electors unable to be present in the Sistine Chapel for the voting.

Balloting Schedule: Balloting occurs, rigorously, until a pope is elected. Balloting on the first day is optional since there are many preliminary tasks to be completed. If time permits, and the electors are amenable, one round of balloting is permitted late in the day. Then, as of the second day, four rounds of balloting a day for three-consecutive days—two in the morning session and two in the afternoon. After that, a ‘time-out’, of up to a day, for the electors to ‘regroup’. Following that the balloting occurs in seven-round cycles, with four ballots on the first day of each round. There is a ‘time out’, of up to a day, after each round of seven ballots. After three such rounds, culminating a total of 34 (or 33) rounds of unsuccessful balloting, an automatic ‘runoff’ process kicks-in.

Runoff’ Process: Since 2007, per a Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (confirmed further by another in 2013), the ‘runoff’ process automatically kicks-in after 33 or 34 rounds of unproductive voting (following a one-day ‘time-out’). During the ‘runoff’ the two highest vote getters from the last round of normal balloting become the only two eligible contenders. Balloting recommences per the seven-rounds and then a ‘time-out’ basis schedule (above). Now, however, votes can only be cast for the two ‘runoff’ contenders. The two contenders are precluded from voting during the ‘runoff’ balloting.

The Smoke (Sfumata): The smoke corresponds to the balloting and other papers being burned, though now chemical smoke cartridges are used to bolster the smoke being generated. The papers, however, are not burned after each round of balloting. Instead, if there are to be two rounds in a session, morning or afternoon, the burning will take place at the conclusion of the second round. Black denotes that the balloting was unsuccessful, while white signals that a new pope has been elected.

Name Change: This is a tradition rather than a mandatory requirement – albeit one that the last 44 popes, going back to 1555, have adhered to. The next pope most likely will assume a new Regnal Name.

The Announcement (Habemus papam): Will be made by the senior most cardinal deacon from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Lingua Franca: All of the formal pronouncements and interrogations have to be in Latin. Announcements and instructions will, however, invariably be in Italian, the dominant language of the Vatican. In 2013 the proceedings of the pre-conclave general congregations (i.e., assemblies of all of the cardinals to discuss pertinent concerns and issues) were simultaneously translated into five languages, viz., Italian, French, German, Spanish & English.

FIGURE 2: The five-story, two-sectional, ‘H’-shaped, Domus Sanctae Marthæ guest house in which the electors will reside during the conclave. It contains 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment. Thus, in the absence of the cardinal electors being required to share rooms, there is an upper limit of 129 that can be housed. Per the current laws only 120 electors may participate in a conclave and the most to-date has been 115 – in both 2013 and 2005. This 129 could be a gating factor if a pope opts to increase the 120 limit – though other accommodation could be found within the Vatican, albeit not as conveniently. Pope Francis, who upon election opted to remain at the ‘Domus’ rather than taking up residence in the Papal Apartments (on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace), has occupied Suite 201 since mid-2013.

FIGURE 3: The 134’ long, 44’ wide & 68’ high Sistine Chapel, bland on the outside and resplendent inside, was built between 1473 and 1481, per the wishes of Pope Sixtus IV (1471). The name ‘Sistine’ is a reference to this ‘Sixtus’ pope. Its outside dimensions are said to reflect those of King Solomon’s Temple in ancient Jerusalem. It was meant to serve as a small, private chapel for the pope and his ‘court’. Prior to its consecration in 1483, Sixtus IV had the interior side walls richly frescoed by a team of Renaissance painters, including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino & Pinturicchio. In the early 16th century, Sixtus IV’s nephew, Julius II the warrior pope’ (1503) coerced Michelangelo, to fresco the fabled ceiling. ‘The Last Judgment’, gracing the entire altar wall, was completed by Michelangelo two decades later. The Sistine is believed to have played a role in 49 of the 54 conclaves held since 1484.

The Conclave: In More Detail,

With Caveats & Elaborations

Even more details in the relevant chapters.

Purpose: A conclave (in the context of the Catholic Church) has only one purpose, and one purpose alone. That being to elect a new pope, per specific Church law, via a secret balloting process – with the electors securely sequestered for the duration.

Sequestration is what sets it apart. ‘Conclave’ is from the Latin for ‘with a key’, i.e., cum clave. The electors are locked away, deprived of contact with the outside world, for the entire duration of the election. This is to both preclude external influences and also, hopefully, to expedite the election deliberations.

The very first bona fide conclave for the election of a pope took place in the fall of 1241. It was held in Rome in a rather odd-ball, semi-decrepit, c. 3rd century structure, close to the Palatine Hill, known as the Septizodium. The sequestration is thought to have lasted 34-days and involved eleven cardinals – one of whom died early on, possibly poisoned!

This conclave elected, on October 25, 1241, Milanese Cardinal Goffredo Castiglioni, a participant from the start, as Celestine IV. He is believed to have been elderly and in ill-health, the harsh confinement exacerbating matters. He fell ill just two days after his election and died a fortnight later. It is not clear whether he was ‘crowned’ as pope prior to his death as was the requirement of the time. Irrespective, his 16-days as an elected pope, one of the shortest in history, was less than half the time it had taken to elect him in conclave!

The sede vacante following Celestine IV’s demise was 1.6-years long (i.e., 592-days) and tellingly, did not involve a conclave.

Conclaves for papal election did not become de rigueur until December 1294. Since then, all 74 legitimate popes, without exception, up to and including Francis (2013), have been elected via a conclave.

The conclave to elect Pope Francis’ successor will be the 75th successive conclave of this unbroken sequence.

The use of the term ‘conclave’, outside of papal elections, to refer to arbitrary private meetings is a relatively recent innovation. In most instances its use is inappropriate in that the participants are not locked up – cum clave.

‘Consistory’, a formal gathering of the cardinals in the presence of the pope, sometimes gets confused with ‘conclave’ – in that they are both ‘c’ words. They are very different gatherings. The key difference being that a consistory is always convened by a pope who will then preside over it. Not so a conclave. A pope cannot explicitly convene a conclave. He can only do so by ceasing to be pope. Also, by definition, there will be no pope in attendance at the start of a conclave. A conclave, furthermore, is supposed to conclude soon after the election of a new pope.

FIGURE 4: The site of the very first genuine conclave. A 16th century engraving of the Septizodium – a temple built, c. 203, close to Rome’s Palatine Hill to honor the ‘seven suns’ (i.e., the seven major celestial bodies). At the time of the first conclave, Sep. – Oct. 1241, it was decrepit with, at best, poor living, dining and sanitary facilities. There was barely enough room for the eleven cardinals and their retinues. Its redeeming virtue was that it was easy to guard to ensure secure sequestration. It had been used for two previous, non-conclave, papal elections.

Participants: Cardinals—The so called ‘cardinal electors’ – i.e., cardinals who are still under the age of 80 at the start of the sede vacante. The conclave will typically start 10 -15 days after the commencement of the sede vacante. A cardinal who turns 80 just ahead of the conclave can still legitimately attend provided he was seventy-nine years of age on the day the sede vacante commenced.

80-year old German cardinal, Walter Kasper, participated in the March 12 – 13, 2013, conclave that elected Francis. Benedict XVI’s resignation was as of February 28, 2013. Thus, to be an elector a cardinal had to be under the age of 80 on that day. Cardinal Kasper tuned 80 on March 5, 2013. He is the only over-80 cardinal to have participated in a conclave since the 80-year cut-off for electors came into effect on January 1, 1971 – at the behest of Paul VI (1963). It is widely believed that Benedict XVI timed his resignation so as to ensure that his compatriot would still be eligible to attend.

Per the current laws, initially formulated by Paul VI in 1973 and since ratified in the 1996 UDG Constitution, only 120 cardinal electors may participate in a conclave. This, as yet, be it by luck or otherwise, has never been an issue. There has never been a conclave when the number of electors has exceeded 117.

John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, however have all, at various times, created enough under-80 cardinals so that the 120-limit was breached. This was again the case on June 28, 2018, following Francis’ fifth cardinal-creating consistory. This time he created a total of fourteen cardinals – eleven of whom were under eighty. Following that consistory there were 125 electors. Eight days later French cardinal, Jean-Louis Tauran (aged 75), the reigning Camerlengo, died from complications arising from a fifteen-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. The count then dropped to 124. It stayed as such till January 30, 2019, when finally a cardinal aged-out. It was then down to 123. It did not get down to 120 until April 27, 2019. If a conclave had come to be during those nine-months, the 120-limit would have been a crucial issue. Francis again exceeded the 120-limit at his sixth cardinal-creating consistory in October 2019. This time he went up to 128. There were, however, four ‘age-outs’ within the month which brought the number down to 124. But, the number was 124, still-above the limit, four months later – into March 2020. The pope is gambling as to his mortality!

It is unclear what would happen if there were to be a conclave when the number of electors exceed 120. One hope is that Francis will address this prior

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