Metro’s guide to the Papal Conclave

American cardinals arrive for the final congregation before cardinals enter the conclave to vote for a new pope. Credit: Getty Images
American cardinals arrive for the final congregation before cardinals enter the conclave to vote for a new pope.
Credit: Getty Images

On Tuesday the cardinals will convene to choose a new Pope.

How long will it take them? Who are the frontrunners? Metro explains.

Will we have a new Pope on Tuesday?

It’s extremely unlikely. In past centuries the papal election could take months. Nowadays it’s much faster: to elect Benedict XVI, they needed three ballots over 1.5 days. Benedict was the frontrunner, so plan on more ballots this time.

What, exactly, happens on Tuesday?

At 10am, the cardinals gather for a special Mass for Election of a New Pontiff. Beginning at 3:45, they’re transferred from the St. Martha House, the building where they’re staying during the Conclave, to the Vatican. Once there, they process to the Sistine Chapel, where they’ll pray at 3:45 and begin their first conclave at 5pm. They’ll vote in two ballots; on each subsequent day, there are two ballots in the morning and two in the afternoon. But, knowing that a long voting process would harm the Church, the cardinals will want to unite quickly.

Speaking of frontrunners, who are the frontrunners this time?

According to the bookmakers, Angelo Scola and Peter Turkson. Scola, a conservative and the current Archbishop of Milan, also benefits from the feeling among Italian cardinals that it’s time for an Italian Pope again. The last one was Pope John Paul I, who died after 33 days in office. But because the Church is growing primarily in the global south, and because in modern times there has never been an African pope, Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian, is also a frontrunner. Turkson made a name for himself during the 2008 global economic meltdown, when took the financial sector to task for its excesses.

When will we know who has won?

When we see the white smoke coming out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. If there’s no winner, black smoke will go up around 7pm after each afternoon round of voting, and at noon after each morning round. And don’t count on any leaks. Though some cardinals tweet, they’ve had to surrender their phones for the duration of the conclave. Just to be safe, the Vatican has installed jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel and the cardinals’ living quarters.

And when will we know who the winner is?

When a cardinal emerges on the Vatican balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square and pronounces the famous words “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope). The cardinal announces the name of the winner, along with the winner’s chosen papal name. The Pope’s then emerges, wearing the Pope’s attire, and gives the assembled crowd the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing.

What will change under the new Pope?

Because he’ll most likely be significantly younger than Benedict XVI, he’ll be able to address the Church’s challenges, such as corruption in the Vatican, with greater vigour. And the personality of the Popes usually takes turns – thus, the charismatic John Paul II was succeeded by the intellectual Benedict. So, count on a charismatic Pontiff.

When will we first hear from the new Pope?

The Urbi et Orbi blessing – but then, most likely on Twitter. The moment Benedict XVI stepped down, the @Pontifex account was changed from Benedictus XVI to “Sede Vacante” (vacant post). The moment the new Pontiff takes office, the Vatican will give him the @Pontifex account. Count on an expeditious blessing in multiple languages.


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