Inside the Conclave: Oaths, Bug-Sweeping, Latin

Catholic cardinals to vote on new pope tomorrow

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 11, 2013 7:57 AM CDT

(Newser) – As the Catholic Church's cardinals prepare to begin voting on a new pope tomorrow, a rundown of how the secretive papal conclave will take shape:

  • Bug-sweepers will ensure the Sistine Chapel is secure, so no details can be leaked, the AFP reports. If a cardinal were to betray the secrecy, he would face excommunication.
  • And it's just as important that nothing leak in: Cardinals are kept from any information from the outside world, so as to make sure no outsiders influence them.
  • The church may be centuries old, but its security methods are not: Underneath Michelangelo's fresco, a system is installed that will scramble any attempt at mobile communications with the outside. Still, some traditional methods remain: The cardinals must swear oaths of secrecy.
  • But they're not the only ones holed up in the Vatican: There are also cooks, doctors, priests to take confession, and technicians to make sure secrecy is maintained, NPR reports.

  • Think you can sit wherever you like? Think again. Electors must draw lots to figure out their places.
  • Once everyone has cast a vote, the votes are counted as a needle and thread are passed through the ballots. The thread is knotted at the end of the count to ensure everything remains fraud-free. (And, of course, when a winner emerges, we'll see white smoke coming from the Vatican's chimney as the ballots are burnt.) Three cardinals check the ballots, the New York Times reports.
  • Nowadays, a chemical is used to make sure the smoke comes out black when no pope has been chosen—but it doesn't always work, an expert says. "Last time the smoke came out gray," he notes. "I wish they'd test it and make sure it works."
  • Tomorrow will likely see one vote; then four ballots occur each day until a two-thirds consensus is reached.
  • Should the voting take longer than a day, the cardinals will sleep in hotel-like accommodations—and each will even have his own bathroom. In the past, cardinals had to stay in the ballot room or share bathrooms.
  • Of course, quite a bit of Latin is spoken, starting with the announcement, "Extra omnes!" That means "everybody [except cardinals] out!" and signals voting is about to begin. Across the ballots is the heading, "Eligo in Summum Pontificem" or "I elect as Supreme Pontiff."
  • The chosen pope is asked to accept the position, and technically he can refuse. Assuming he does not, he dons the white robes; there are three sizes prepared in advance.

Workers use a crane to place a burgundy curtain around the doorframe of the balcony on the front of St. Peter's Basilica where the newly elected Pope will make his first appearance, March 11, 2013.
Workers use a crane to place a burgundy curtain around the doorframe of the balcony on the front of St. Peter's Basilica where the newly elected Pope will make his first appearance, March 11, 2013.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Cardinal Marc Ouellet arrives for a meeting at the Vatican, Monday March 11, 2013.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet arrives for a meeting at the Vatican, Monday March 11, 2013.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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