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About the Blogger

Joyce Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World. She has worked in communications and media for Catholic organizations for several years. Most recently, she served as assistant editor at Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Electing a New Pope

Lots of people are talking about it. The cardinal-electors of the Catholic Church will enter conclave on Tuesday and in all likelihood we should have a new pope by the end of the week.

In the days and weeks leading up to the election of a new pope, we have been hearing about the inner workings of the conclave and the traditions involved with it. The methods for electing a pope have evolved over the 2,000 years of the Catholic Church -- with the now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI adding his own changes just a few weeks back. For those of us working in media it's a fun time to delve into the history of the conclave.

One of my favorite pieces of history surrounds the birth of the first "conclave," a word that means "with a key." It took place during the longest election in papal history. Catholic News Service reports that after Pope Clement IV died in 1268, the cardinals meeting in Viterbo, Italy, could not elect his successor. The cardinals' indecision dragged on for 33 months. Fed up with the delay, "city officials locked all of the cardinals in the meeting room, reduced their diet to bread and water and took the roof off the meeting hall that the cardinals elected Pope Gregory X." So began the tradition of closing off the cardinals in a room for the election.

Here are a few other interesting conclave tidbits:

-- During World War II, Pope Pius XII, like several of his predecessors who were popes in times of war, left a document informing the College of Cardinals that if he were taken prisoner, he was no longer to be considered the pope, so the cardinals were to hold a conclave and elect a new pontiff. (CNS)

-- Pope Gregory XV who was elected in 1621 introduced the practice of the cardinals casting their votes by secret ballot rather than publicly voicing their vote.

-- In 687 a priest was pulled from a crowd and consecrated pope after fighting between clergy, the army and an archdeacon of Rome.

-- If the pope is not a bishop at the time of his election, he must be ordained immediately then the election becomes valid. Pope Urban VI in 1378 was the last pope elected from outside the College of Cardinals. Pope Leo X in 1513 was the last non-priest elected to the papacy. Gregory XVI in 1831 was the last cardinal elected who wasn't a bishop.

-- If any deals are made to secure an election (In other words: "Vote for Cardinal X and I will owe you a favor.") the election is deemed null, according to Universi Dominici Gregis issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996.

-- It was Pope John Paul II who decreed that the conclave take place in the Sistine Chapel. Up until then it had been held in various churches in Rome and beyond.

Check in for updates on the conclave and the papal election at

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