THE word Conclave comes from the Latin “with a key” and refers to the historic practice of locking the cardinals in a room and refusing to open the door until they had decided who should emerge as pope.
By comparison to their predecessors, the 115 men in scarlet who yesterday processed into the Sistine Chapel can ponder the identity of who among them is best placed to shoulder the burdens of the Catholic Church in relative comfort.
For while cardinals past had their rations reduced and, in one case, the roof removed in the hope that inclement weather would force their hand, the cardinals retired last night to a £12 million hotel, Casa Santa Marta, where fevered discussion, debate and horse trading will be played out amid the marble floored corridors and potted plants.
It is here each night and during lunchtimes that names will be whispered, candidates discussed and demands made, for when they step outside and into the bus that ferries them the few hundred yards to the Sistine Chapel they are relatively silent. Once in the chapel each cardinal will have a ballot paper that reads: “Eligo in summum pontificem” (I elect as supreme pontiff). The cardinal writes the name of his favoured candidate, then folds it in half and processes up to the altar to slide his ballot into a chalice.
If no one receives two thirds the ballot is unsuccessful and the ballot papers are burned.
When a candidate wins two-thirds of the vote, he is elected as pope.
If he says yes, he is then asked to choose a new Papal name. The ballot papers that secured his election are burned with the addition of a chemical designed to produce white smoke.
The new pope will then be led into the “room of tears” where popes frequently shed them as they do their cardinal’s robes before putting on one of three white cassocks, neatly arranged in small, medium and large.
The pope will then step on to the main balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, proceeded by the phrase: (in Latin)
“I announce to you with great joy we have a Pope.”