Electing a pope in seven easy steps

Basically, it’s pretty much the same old drill as the last few times, except that there’s no funeral. Here is how the church gets a new pope, albeit in simplified sequence.

Ya’ll come: The Dean of the College of Cardinals calls the cardinals to the conclave, which must begin 15 to 20 days after Pope Benedict XVI resigns.

Lockdown time: The cardinals arrive, settle in and take an oath to keep their proceedings secret. Other than support personnel and the housekeeping staff (usually members of religious orders), everyone else is kept away.

Ready, set, process!: The cardinals select two clerics to preach to them on the state of the church — one before they process in, one once they’re inside. The cardinal electors concelebrate a Mass and then process to the Sistine Chapel. There they will hold four votes a day — two in the morning, and two in the afternoon.

Doing it old school: Here’s how the cardinals vote. They sit in two rows, facing each other. Each one gets a ballot. Each one writes a name on their ballot, and, in order, gets up, walks to a large chalice-like urn on the altar, and makes a declaration. They place the ballot on a paten (or plate) on the urn, and then turn it over and let it slide into the urn.

Keep count: When all the cardinals have voted, three scrutineers (ballot counters) take the ballots to a table and announce the names while keeping count. The votes are totaled. In 2007, Pope Benedict reverted to the two-thirds majority rule, reversing Pope John Paul II’s 1996 simple majority rule.

Smokin’: The ballots are burned in a little stove set up in the chapel. White smoke means a cardinal won enough votes and has agreed to be pope. Black smoke means nobody won. Since it’s sometimes hard to tell what color the smoke is, a bell is rung to announce that a pope has been elected and accepted the office.

Who are you?: When a cardinal has won, the Dean of the College of Cardinals asks the winner for his consent. If he says, “Yes,” he asks the new pope his name. The new pope is led away to be vested, and then he’s taken to a balcony called a loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He’s introduced with the words “Habemus papam!” (We have a pope). The crowd goes wild and the new pope gives his first blessing.