Hi Trousy, hope this helps:
The conclave is the process by which the Roman Catholic Church elects the Pope (or Bishop of Rome). Thus, the Pope is considered the successor of Saint Peter, head of the Church and the Vatican. The word ‘conclave’ comes from the Latin words ‘cum’ and ‘clave’, which translate to ‘with a key’ (as they are locked up). During the conclave the electors cannot talk to any people outside the process. For centuries, conclaves have been held in the Sistine Chapel, within the Vatican Palace.
In the first centuries, Roman priests and clergies agreed with each other to choose the new Pope and they presented him to Rome. If Rome accepted him, he was appointed. Election in this way caused many problems and provoked numerous fights, and those who did not approve of the elected Pope chose their own. Thus, the antipopes were created. This way changed a little in the 6th century but it was not until 1139 that the Pope was chosen only by cardinals.
Modern conclaves started in the Italian city of Viterbo. In 1139, Clement IV died and the cardinals did not choose a new Pope (they could not agree). But three years without a Pope was too long for the people - and their anger grew. They decided to feed cardinals with only bread and water. Moreover, they demolished the roof of their palace. The cardinals regrouped and promptly chose Gregory X. (He later imposed strict rules so this did not happen again).
Since the 15th century, conclaves are only held in Rome, with one exception: that in 1800, which was held in Venice since Rome was at war. No conclaves have been held outside the Sistine Chapel since 1846.
Electors have to be cardinals and therefore, members of the Cardinals College (the Pope does not have to be a cardinal).
The number of members of the Cardinals College has changed a lot during the centuries: in the 13th century there were only seven members, while in 1587 there were 70. In the 20th century, especially with John XXIII, the Church tried to increasingly vary the Cardinals’ nationalities. However, Paul VI restricted the number of cardinals to 120 and imposed a rule restricting the age of electors to 80.
In 2003, John Paul II named 31 more cardinals and raised the maximum number of electors to 135 (the age-limit rule remained). Nowadays, there are 183 members in the College, of which only 117 can vote.
4. From the death to the new Pope
4.1. THE POPE’S DEATH
When the Pope dies, the Camerlengo (a cardinal) has to confirm his death. In order to do that, tradition says that he has to hit the Pope’s head with a hammer made of silver. When he confirms it, he kneels down and prays for his soul. Afterwards, another cardinal issues the death certificate, so a doctor is necessary.
Then, the Pope’s official objects are destroyed, so that no false documents are made. Afterwards, some special cardinals are told the news and the doyen of the College of Cardinals calls all the cardinals in the world and invites them to Rome. Finally, the bell in St Peter’s Square is rung to inform the world of the death.
4.2. THE START OF THE CONCLAVE
After the Pope’s funeral, the conclave begins. It is held in the Sistine Chapel, but the cardinals can also stay in a special building and in the gardens in the Vatican City, but they must not talk to anybody outside the event. In the last conclave, for example, they used electronic gadgetry to prevent outsiders knowing their process or decision before a formal announcement. In the afternoon, they go to the Sistine Chapel where they recite the ‘Veni Creator’ prayer so that the Holy Spirit comes to them and they promise they will abide by the rules.
Then, a cardinal declares ‘Extra omnes!’, meaning that anybody not taking part in the conclave must leave; except the cardinal himself and a preacher, who meditates with the cardinals. Finally, the cardinals are left alone and the doors are shut.
The votes are done in secret. Candidates must win at least two thirds of the cardinals’ votes to be named Pope (they are allowed to vote themselves).
There are two votes every day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. After that, each cardinal is given a piece of paper to vote for his favourite (only one name per cardinal is allowed). Each cardinal goes to the altar and gives his paper. When all the cardinals have given their papers, three cardinals count the votes aloud, with another three cardinals looking on, in order to prevent cheating. If the number of votes and of cardinals do not match, the papers are burnt and the vote is repeated.
If nobody wins two thirds of the vote, the papers are burnt with wet straw and black smoke appears. (Otherwise, they are burnt with dry straw and the smoke appears white). In the last conclaves, there were many problems with this system, and the Sistine Chapel almost got burnt and the white smoke appeared grey. To solve this problem, the bells of St Peter’s Square are rung so that all doubts are cleared.
The conclave lasts as long as it is necessary. After 33 or 34 votes (depending on if they voted the first day or not) if there is no winner, the cardinals can change the rules so that only half of the cardinals vote to choose either of the two most popular cardinals.
When somebody is elected, the new Pope has to say whether he would like to be Pope or not. If he accepts, he has to say the name by which he wants to be called. If somebody who is not in the room gets elected, he has to be called as soon as possible and nobody outside the conclave must know.
After that, he is named new Pope and Bishop pf Rome. He is then dressed appropriately and appears on the balcony to give the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing. It is not uncommon for a celebration to be held to mark his election.