What Really Happens When Choosing the Pope

Posted on May 29, 2013 by


The Pope is arguably the most popular living figurehead. With over one billion Roman Catholic followers, the pope has a lot of people to please.

A lot of people know who the Pope is and what he does, but not many people understand how the Pope actually becomes the Pope.

It is a common thought that the previous Pope decides who it will be, or that there is a worldwide Catholic election.  Both of these methods have been used previously, but usually neither one of these actually take place.

The Pope is elected by special people within the church body. These people are called elector cardinals.  Elector cardinals are appointed by the Pope, and there are 120 elector cardinals who vote. Currently, there are 121 elector cardinals. Usually, the Pope will choose cardinals with similar views as his own. By doing this, he is hoping that, after him, the Pope that is next elected will make similar decisions to him and keep on the track he was pursued.

In order to elect a Pope, the cardinals need to meet to vote. They gather together no sooner than 15 days, but no later than 20 days after a Pope’s death–or, in this year’s case, resignation. The cardinals are then locked into a room until they can decide on a new Pope.

There is no deadline as for how long the cardinals may be locked in the room. It all depends on how long it takes them to elect a new Pope.

Many people also do not understand who can become a Pope. Under Canon Law, any person in good standing with the church may become a Pope.

Most people believe that a person has to be a bishop to be elected, which is almost the case. Anyone may be elected, bishop or not, but if they are not a bishop when they are elected, they must be ordained a bishop before they assume the position. They have to do this because the Pope is technically the Bishop of Rome.

The votes are tallied by three people and compared. Once a Pope is elected, there are two steps for him to take. The first is to accept and agree to become the new Pope.

After he accepts, he chooses a new name. While this is not required, most Popes do this anyway for tradition, as it honors the name change of St. Peter, given by Jesus, from his original name Simon.

Directly after the Pope accepts and picks his name, he goes into a room with several different-sized robes and skull caps and tries them on to get the one with the best fit. He then gives his first service and starts his pontification right away.

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