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March 4th, 2013

How is the Pope Elected?


When 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he was stepping down from the papacy, the leaders of the Catholic Church became tasked to do what had never been done in the modern era: select a successor to a living pope.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful for the last time from the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo February 28, 2013. Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

Cardinals representing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are gathered in Rome to determine when to convene what’s called a conclave, the secretive process through which a new pope is elected.

The Voting Process

One hundred and seventeen cardinal-electors gather in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, and after taking the oath of secrecy, write their selections on a folded card presented at the altar. All cardinals must vote; if there are more or fewer ballots than the number of cardinal-electors, all of the ballots are burned without inspection.

Balloting continues until one cardinal receives two-thirds of all votes. Cardinals will go through the voting process twice in the morning and twice in afternoon, while after each vote, a counter writes down the names of the cardinals nominated by their peers.

These names are placed in an urn and burned. If there’s a winner, chemicals are added to the urn to make the smoke white, and if there’s still no cardinal who garners two-thirds of the votes, the smoke is kept black to signify the balloting process has not yet yielded a new pope. When the cardinals have gone through three days of voting without a winner, they will break for a day of prayer.

People react near a giant screen showing the departure of Pope Benedict XVI from the Vatican City, February 28, 2013. Pope Benedict slips quietly from the world stage on Thursday after a private last goodbye to his cardinals and a short flight to a country palace to enter the final phase of his life “hidden from the world”.


Who Will It Be?

Besides the fact that Pope Benedict is the first pope to step down in 600 years, there’s speculation that selecting the 266th pope will be historic for another reason: the Sacred College of Cardinals may pick a pope from outside Europe, looking toward Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Top contenders hail from Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Canada and the Philippines. Latin America is home to 42 percent of the world’s Catholics. Archbishop of the Sao Paolo, Brazil, diocese, the largest Catholic congregation in the world, Odilo Scherer, is a Brazilian of German descent. He’s known for wanting to liberalize the Church’s theology. Another Brazilian, Joao Braz de Aviz, is also a champion of the poor in Latin America.

Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is an experienced academic, but his opposition to using condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS doesn’t make him a uniformly popular pick. Francis Arinze of Nigeria became the youngest bishop in the world when he was ordained in 1965, but age 80, he may be too old to be pope.

Does It Matter to You?

The youngest serious contender, however, is the 55-year-old Luis Tagle of the Philippines. But his relative youth and inexperience may sink his chances. The idea of a group of middle-aged to older men choosing the future leader of the Catholic Church, rocked by child sex abuse scandals in recent years, begs the question of just how much the selection of a new pope matters to young people in an increasingly secular world, and one in which the number of Catholic communions and marriage ceremonies is falling.

According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, four out of five Catholics who gave up their Catholicism and did not adopt another religion did so before age 24. And beyond Catholicism, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that in 2012, 32 percent of 18 to 19 year olds were unaffiliated with any religion, the highest of any age group.

— Compiled by Simone Pathe for NewsHour Extra

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