Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Soundbites on Cardinals and Papal Elections

An earlier post on the Pope begs another another post on what happens when a Pope dies and a new one elected.  I have been involved with children during the last two papal elections and the children loved the stories surrounding it.  So do many adults.  These stories tells so much about us as a people and how much we love our ancient traditions and practices.  That would be the message that I would be trying to convey to the children through these stories.

Getting a new Pope

Confirming that the Pope has died
There are a lot of traditions when a pope dies, and the last one was Bl (soon to be St) John Paul II in 2005.  And there are reasons for these traditions.

Among the cardinals, there is one who goes by the title of Camerlengo or Chamberlain in English and has the responsibility to determine that the Pope is dead.  He is to call out the baptism name - not the papal name; so, in the case of John Paul II, it was Karol and not John Paul.  He will have to say "Karol, dormisne?" ("Karol, are you sleeping?" in English) three times.  If there is no answer, that is it.


In the past, the Camerlengo used a silver hammer to tap the forehead of the dead Pope to confirm no reaction but I am not sure they do it anymore.

After the Pope dies
The first thing that the Camerlengo does after confirming that the Pope is dead is to destroy the papal ring in the presence of other cardinals.  This is because in the past the ring was used as a seal.  If the Pope is dead, no one should be using the ring as a seal.  He then informs the cardinals that the Pope is dead.

Also, after the Pope dies, the papal apartments are locked up and sealed in wax, to be opened only by the new Pope.  This is because of an incident in the past where cardinals rushed into the papal apartments after the Pope died and made off with souvenirs.

The Camerlengo then ceremoniously order the Dean of the College of Cardinals to summon all cardinals to Rome to elect the new Pope.  The church bells in Rome are then rung in sorrow.

All authority in the Vatican ceases after the Pope dies and all personnel need to be reappointed by the new Pope.  The only exception is the Camerlengo.  After all, someone needs to administer the Vatican and sign paychecks.

Pope Benedict XVI revived a rare way of vacating the papacy by resigning in February 2013.  This is provided for by Church Law but there is nothing that make a resignation mandatory if a pope incapacitated or ill.  The resignation has to be purely voluntary.  In the past, most of the popes who resigned did so due to events (the first one, St Pontian resigned after been imprisoned during a Roman persecution, and wanted to allow a successor to be elected).  Only three, including Benedict, resigned out of personal considerations and lived in a monastery after resigning.

Papal funeral
The body of the dead pope is normally laid in state for anyone who wishes to do so, to pay their last respects before the funeral.  In the case of John Paul II, for six days.  In the past until the mid-twentieth century, the organs of the dead pope were removed and the body embalmed.  The embalming was to allow the funeral to be held late so that the cardinals had more time in those pre-airliners days to reach Rome.  The body of John Paul II was the first not to be embalmed.


Papal funerals in the past were a grand affair, until that of Paul VI in 1978, who wanted a simple funeral.  That of the very popular John Paul II was notable in that it was the largest gathering of heads of state and government from all over the world.  Several leaders who were enemies in the secular world had to shake hands with each other at the sign of peace.  The heads of the Orthodox and Anglican churches also attended a papal funeral for the first time, together with representatives of many other churches and religions.  Many Catholic and non-Catholic churches throughout the world held their own memorial for John Paul II as did many synagogues, mosques and temples.


The body was then placed into three coffins.  The first is a cypress coffin, which crumbles easily to dust and remind us that the Pope is like any other man, whose body will also revert to dust from which Adam was created.  The second is a lead coffin that is durable, into which is placed the broken seal of office and any important documents that that pope has issued.  This tradition has helped us today to preserve many of the original documents signed and sealed by many past popes.  The third is made of wood as a dignity to the dead.  The triple coffin is lowered into the crypt below St Peter's Basilica in the presence of close family members and the immediate household.

Electing a Pope

The early bishops of Rome were usually acclaimed and not voted in by the clergy and the people of the Roman church.  While acclamations were usually guided by the Holy Spirit, such imprecision sometimes lead to confusion and elections were eventually introduced.  Such evolution very much mirrors how bishops in most dioceses took office.  In the fourth century, the people of Milan dragged a catechumen before the clergy as their choice of bishop and that catechumen was to be St Ambrose, later to be one of the four Fathers of the Western Church.

The rules for the election of the Bishop of Rome also evolved slowly and only in 1059 were the cardinals given the sole right to elect the Pope and only in 1139 was the right of the laity and lower clergy to reject the cardinal's choice abolished.  The rules for papal elections are now very clear with the latest version set out by John Paul II.

The candidates
Under current rules, any baptised Catholic man can be Pope.  In fact, having lay people elected as bishops are not uncommon in the early Church (as you can see with a certain catechumen in Milan).  The last non-priest to be elected Pope was in 1513.

Practically though, the candidates are usually cardinals.  The last non-cardinal to be elected Pope was in 1378 but a non-cardinal did receive some votes in 1958.

Today's papal election is very unlike any general election.  Nobody will publicly declare himself a candidate and anyone campaigning for himself will normally be looked upon very unfavaroubly by the other cardinals. There will be many Vaticanologists (a journalist or an expert in the Vatican affairs), though, who will speculate on which cardinal has the best chance of being pope.  Such candidates are dubbed papabile.  It has become a frenzy of media reporting every time there is a papal election.  In any case, these experts normally don't get it right.  Of the last four popes, only Benedict was touted as a papabile before his election.

The conclave
The meeting of cardinals to elect the Pope is called a conclave, from the Latin word with key.  It is called that because the cardinals are locked away in seclusion from the rest of the world so that they can get on with the task of electing the Pope without distractions.

Today, the papal elections are held in the Sistine Chapel and the cardinals are housed at the guesthouse for visiting clergy next door, where Pope Francis resides today.  After a morning mass in St Peter's Basilica, the cardinals proceed to the Sistine Chapel, singing Veni Creator Spiritus.  After a homily, the cardinals take an oath on the Gospel Book to observe the rules of the conclave. 


After that, all outsiders are ejected when the Papal Master of Ceremonies calls out "Extra omnes" (Latin for "Everyone out") and the doors of the Sistine Chapel are locked.  The only non-cardinals to remain are seven officers assisting in the elections and any nurse accompanying a cardinal for ill-health as certified by the College of Cardinals.  Two doctors, priests to hear confessions and servants for housekeeping and meals are also admitted.

From this point onwards until a new pope is elected, no communications between the cardinals and the outside world are allowed.  No phones, TV, messages, newspapers.  This is so that the cardinals can focus on discerning the will of the Holy Spirit without any influence or distractions from anyone else.  Some of the 17 cardinals who had Twitter accounts during the 2013 conclave, were twittering from the Chapel and they too had to stop at this point.

It used to be more spartan.  There were occasions centuries ago when the people, frustrated with the year-long deadlocks in papal elections, would lock up the cardinals, feed them only bread and water, or once, removed the roof of the house they were in, to force the cardinals to get on with it!!

The ballots
The Rules provide for an election by acclamation, which I presume would involve all the cardinals moved by the Holy Spirit stand up and cheer one cardinal to be the Pope.  Haven't happened in a long long time but I did see that happen once in a movie.

Otherwise, the cardinals write down their preferred name on a ballot paper and the one who wins is the one who has a two-third majority.  If the election run for too long, the voting will be a run off between the two leading candidates; so, elections now should not run for moe than a fortnight.

The voting takes place during sessions: two sessions a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Voting by ballots takes place twice in each session until one candidate gets the required majority.  There is only one ballot on the first day.  The cardinals will spend the rest of the day and mealtimes discussing what the needs of the Church are and which candidate would make a good pope.

The procedures
The procedures are incredibly detailed, far more than you would have for a general election.  At the start of each session, each cardinal takes an oath to obey the rules of the conclave: that's twice a day.  The cardinals then draw lots for nine of them to supervise the voting: three to count the votes, three to check, and three to help any of the cardinals who are infirm.  All three will have to perform their tasks together so that everything is checked and counter-checked.  There is no way anyone can claim any cheating.

The cardinals are each given their ballot papers at the beginning of each session, onto which they write the name of their preferred choice.  There is no pre-selected candidates to tick against, like in general elections.  The cardinals are actually instructed to disguise their writing so that secrecy is maintained.


They then proceed to the altar in order of their rankings, individually say an oath aloud before tipping his folded ballot paper into a container in full view of all cardinals so that they can see there is only one ballot paper.  Both the way the ballot papers are to be folded and tipped into the container are prescribed by the rules.

The rules are also very detailed about the shaking of the container (to mix up the ballot papers so that you can't trace which one was the last to be put in) and counting of the ballot papers before reading out the preferred name written on them and recording them - down to which of the team of three cardinals is to unfold the ballot paper and which one to read it out.

The second team of three cardinals then check whether the counting is done correctly.  If no candidate gets the required majority, the cardinals then proceed to the next ballot.

After the election
If a cardinal gets the required majority, the Cardinal Dean will approach him whether he will accept being Pope.  In theory, he could say no, but of course in practice, he would have made that clear before the voting.  The cardinal becomes a pope once he says yes.

The rules also require the Cardinal Dean to consecrate the candidate if he is not already a bishop or to ordain him if he is not already a priest.  Of course, that rule hasn't been used for centuries.

The new pope is then asked what name he intend to use.  Adopting a new papal name is strictly not necessary and the last pope to continue to use his baptism name after his election was in the sixteenth century.  After that, the doors are unlocked and officials are allowed back into the the Chapel.


The new pope then goes into a room next to the Chapel to be vested.  That room is called the Room of Tears to denote how new popes mourn the loss of any privacy that he previously had, now that he is pope.  Because no one knows who the new pope was going to be, three sets of papal vestments in three sizes are prepared.  Pope Francis dispensed with most of the vestments and came out with only the simple white cassock.


The cardinals then approach the new pope to pledge their allegiance.  In days gone by, they would kiss the shoes of the new pope but that has been dispensed with in the twentieth century.

And no, there never was a Pope Joan and the story that a cardinal is assigned to check the gender of the pope after the election - that story is a complete myth!!  Nice story though.

Announcing the new Pope
During papal elections, a large crowd will gather in St Peter's Square outside to pray and await the outcome of the voting.  But as the doors are all locked and no communications are allowed, there is no way to inform the outside world whether a pope is elected or not.  None that is except one way: the famous chimney of the Sistine Chapel.  After voting, the ballot papers are burnt to preserve secrecy.  Chemicals are added to make the smoke white, if a pope is elected, or black, if the vote is inconclusive.  The smoke goes up at the end of each session, twice a day, until you get white smoke.


White smoke is also accompanied by the ringing of the church bells, which will then be taken up by the other churches in Rome.  That will send many Catholics running to St Peter's Square.


After the new pope has been properly vested, the doors of the balcony of the St Peter's Basilica are opened and a senior cardinal will appear to announce, "Habemus Papem" or "We have a Pope".  He will then introduce the new pope to the world with the new papal name.  When he was introduced, Pope Francis asked the faithful gathered in the Square below to pray for him before he blessed them.

Papal Inauguration
While strictly speaking, the Pope is already a Pope the moment he assented to his election, there is normally a mass to inaugurate the Pope on the Sunday after the election.  Past popes before 1978 were crowned with the tiara in a very grand and elaborate ceremony.  The last four popes dispensed with the coronations in favour of a much simpler inauguration mass.


That of Pope Francis was the simplest ever.  He received the pallium, a woolen vestment that symbolises his authority over the Roman diocese and the Ring of the fisherman, his being silver unlike the previous gold.  Six cardinals also professed their obedience to him on behalf of all the cardinals.


We best know the cardinals as the electors of the Pope.  The order of cardinals has a very interesting and illustrative history.  Today, they are also the closest advisers of the Pope and share with him the monumental task of administering the world wide Church.  The whole of the group of cardinals is called the College of Cardinals.


Cardinals vestments
Cardinals wear red, to symbolise the blood they are willing to shed for the Church.  In all other aspects the vestments of cardinals are that of a bishop except for two headgears.  During formal functions, the cardinals wear a red biretta, a square cap with four peaks, but is not topped by a tuft like those sometimes worn by bishops.  Outside of formal functions, they wear a zuchetto, a red skullcap.    


In the past, the cardinals were given a galero, a red wide brim hat looking like a red Mexican sombero.  This has now been replaced by the biretta but some cardinals continue to wear their own.  After they die, their galero is sometimes suspended from the ceiling of their cathedral.


And no, the cardinals are not named after the bird.  The cardinal bird is named after the Catholic cardinals because it is red in colour.

If you ever have the pleasure of speaking to a cardinal, you call him "Your Eminence".  When formally addressed, eg, in letters or announcements, the word cardinal comes before his family name, eg., Timothy Cardinal Dolan.  (I know, I know, most of the media do not follow the correct practice.)  He could be Archbishop Timothy but never Cardinal Timothy.

Origins of cardinals
Properly speaking, the cardinals were originally members of the clergy of the diocese of Rome.  They were the bishops of suburban dioceses, the parish priests of the principal parishes or deacons of Rome.  From early days, as a body, they elected the Pope. 

Only in the twelfth century did bishops from outside of Rome get to be cardinals.  For a long time, the clergy of Rome and later Italian bishops continue to dominate the College of Cardinals.  Only since the middle of the twentieth century did the proportion of Italians among cardinals fell to less than half.  With the first non-Italian pope in four centuries, John Paul II, more non-Europeans created cardinals.  Today, there are cardinals from 65 countries in the world: while Italians continue to make up the largest contingent at 47, the US has the second highest number with 19.

In the past, there were lay cardinals who were not ordained even as deacons, but the last one died in 1899.  And no, there was never a woman lay cardinal which would be impossible, considering that they are technically the clergy of Rome.  Today, men created cardinals must be at least priests and if they are not bishops, they have to be consecrated bishops after being made cardinals unless the Pope dispenses with it.

Role of cardinals The primary role of the cardinals is to elect the Pope.  Other than that, one can say that it is really an honorary title.  Still, as Princes of the Church, cardinals are important people in the Church.  Popes relied a lot on the advice and input of the cardinals, either individually or collectively as a College, before making important decisions.  Pope Francis in particular is well known for his consultations of cardinals.

Basically, cardinals have two types of day jobs.  The majority of cardinals are archbishops of very important archdioceses in the world, although there are a few who are only bishops.  There are a number of archdioceses where it is traditional for the archbishop to be named a cardinal.

Other cardinals work in the Vatican and head important departments known as the Curia.  Still others are made cardinals after their retirement in recognition of their services to the Church.

Orders of cardinals
As the cardinals are also technically clergy of Rome, the orders of the cardinals also reflect the three tiers of the Holy Order: bishops, priests and deacons.  This ranking determines the order of precedence, like when they are processing together in for a mass.  Within the same tier, cardinals are ranked in order of the date they were created cardinals and then their birthday, if there are cardinals created the same day.

There are six cardinal-bishops who are traditionally bishops of the six suburban diocese of Rome.  These dioceses have now been integrated into the larger diocese of Rome and only the titles remain.  Cardinal-bishops normally work in the Curia as the more senior officials.  The chief cardinal-bishop is the Dean of the entire College of Cardinals, elected by cardinal-bishops and chairs meetings of cardinals.


There are also a few patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic churches who are cardinals.  They dress in the manner of their traditions, which is not Roman at all.  They also hold the rank of cardinal-bishops. 

The next rank are the cardinal-priests, who are the most numerous.  They are almost all residential bishops, which means that they run large dioceses from all over the world.  There are a few who works in the Curia.  They are technically parish priests of 143 titular churches in Rome but, of course, they are not expected to be administrators of those churches.  Their names however will still be displayed at those titular churches and they are expected to preach there when they are in Rome.

Cardinal-deacons are the most junior order and they work in the Curia.  Priests, normally over 80 years old, whose work the Pope wishes to recognise with a cardinalate are also of this rank.  Originally, there were seven cardinal-deacons to reflect the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles in Acts 6.  Then there were 14, each assigned to administer social services in one administrative area of Rome, a link now no longer observed.  Today, the cardinal-deacons are assigned one of the 69 titular churches reserved for cardinal-deacons, similar to cardinal-priests.

Number of cardinals
By Church law, only cardinals below the age of 80 can elect the Pope and there can only be 120 of them at any one time.  Having said that, the Pope may slightly exceed that number if there are cardinals approaching the age of 80 in the following few months.  There is no limit to the number of cardinals over the age of 80.


Worthy men are created cardinals at the sole discretion of the Pope, and while holders of key Curia departments or archbishops of major cities are traditionally created cardinals, there is no guarantee of being created a cardinal.  A list of new cardinals is normally announced after a number of cardinals passed their 80th birthday and, hence, the number of cardinal-electors drops to well below 120.  Those named will then normally be installed at a consistory.  

Occasionally, the Pope may name someone a cardinal in secret.  This happened in the past when naming cardinals in communist countries and the secrecy is intended to protect them.  They cannot exercise their office as cardinals as sometimes, they themselves is not aware of it themselves.  If the Pope dies before any public announcement, then the secret cardinalate will lapse as well.

Cardinals are named for life and is a personal title bestowed by the Pope.  It does not go with the office they hold.  As such, they continue to be cardinals even after retirement.


Cardinals are installed in a consistory, when they are given their zucchetto, biretta and their ring from the Pope.  They get this after swearing an oath of loyalty and service to the Church.

Meetings of cardinals
There are two types of meetings of cardinals.  A conclave is a special meeting of cardinals to elect a new pope in the manner already described.

Cardinals also meet on a regular basis in consistories.  Consistories are held to install new cardinals and also as meetings where the Pope consults with his cardinals.  They can be held at any time that the Pope requests for it.  There has been seven so far this century.

Cardinals are also given a Vatican passport which they use to ensure that they have free passage to Rome for any meeting of the Church.

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