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Selecting Pope Benedict XVI: the election process

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After the reigning pope dies -- or in very rare instances resigns -- the cardinals gather in a conclave in the Sistine Chapel to select a new pope. Theoretically, any male Roman Catholic can be chosen. In practice, one of the cardinals is picked. Four ballots are generally conducted each day -- two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Each time an unsuccessful pair of ballots has been completed, chemicals are added to the ballot papers before they are burned in a small stove. This produces black smoke which is visible above the roof of the chapel. When the new pope has been chosen, the papers are burned with the addition of other chemicals to produce white smoke. This announces to the world that the conclave has selected the new pope.. The highest ranking cardinal emerges from the chapel. He tells the public gathered in St. Peter's Square the name of the new pope. The newly elected pope then emerges and gives his first papal blessing: Urbi et Orbi ("To the City and to the World"). 1

In 1978, the conclave selected Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as pope on the fourth ballot, which was held on the second day. He chose the name John Paul. Later in 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland was elected on the eighth ballot which occurred on the third day. He selected the name John Paul II. The conclave began its work to pick his successor on Monday, 2005-APR-18. They concluded their work the next day after about five ballots. 2

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, of Germany was elected pope on 2005-APR-19, on the second day of the 2005 conclave. He has selected the name Benedict XVI. His election was announced to the world at 6:43 PM, Vatican City time.

He was the archbishop of Munich, Germany,  and dean of the College of Cardinals. He has headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith since 1981. He has personally written many extremely conservative documents concerning church theology. His congregation has cancelled the teaching licenses of many liberal Roman Catholic theologians, one of the most notable being Hans Küng. CNN News commented:

"He has been the driving force behind the Vatican's crackdowns on liberation theology, religious pluralism, challenges to traditional moral teachings on issues such as homosexuality, and dissent on such issues as women's ordination."

His election may well place an immense strain on relationships between the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy in such relatively liberal countries as the U.S., Canada and Holland. 3

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Topics covered in this section:

bullet Recent changes in the election procedures, and in the Church itself
bullet How Pope Benedict XVI was elected by the Conclave
bullet Important issues that may have affected the selection of the pope

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Reference used:

  1. Nino Lo Bello, "The incredible book of Vatican facts and papal curiosities. A treasury of trivia," Barns & Noble, (1998), Pages 35 & 36. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Frances D'Emilio, "Can Italy's cardinals regain their lock on papacy?," Associated Press, 2005-APR-14.
  3. "Ratzinger a close confidant of John Paul II," CNN News, 2005-APR-19, at:
  4. A video showing the announcement and Pope Benedict XVI's first blessing is available at: Jackson's Junction,

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Copyright © 2005 & 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-APR-01
Latest update: 2012-MAR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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