Electing a Pope

Weeks after the resignation of Benedict XVI, Cardinals from the Catholic Church gathered in Rome to choose a new pope. There was plenty of buzz about conclaves, interregnum and other words that aren’t part of our everyday vocabulary. So just how was the new pope elected?

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Weeks after the resignation of Benedict XVI, Cardinals from the Catholic Church gathered in Rome to choose a new pope. There was plenty of buzz about conclaves, interregnum and other words that aren’t part of our everyday vocabulary. So just how was the new pope elected? Here is an explanation of some of the process.

What are Cardinals?

Cardinals are bishops who have been given special responsibilities in the administration of the Church. The word comes from Latin cardo meaning ‘hinge’ or ‘that on which another thing depends’. The Cardinals are the Pope’s principal advisors but since 1179 their main responsibility is to elect the next pope. The role of elector, however, is limited to those under the age of 80. Cardinals are either archbishops of major dioceses in the world (New York, London, Toronto and Manila, for example) or the heads of agencies in the Roman Curia. For example, before his election as Pope, Benedict XVI was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (note that the first name precedes the title) who was Prefect (or head) of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Other examples of agencies in the Curia are the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Collectively, the Cardinals are known as the College of Cardinals.

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The Cardinals wear scarlet red (the sash, the hat or biretta and piping on their cassocks) indicating that they are willing to shed their blood for the Church. By the way, the bird ‘cardinal’ gets its name from the Cardinals of the Church, because of its red colour, and not the other way around.

It is customary, but not obligatory, that the Cardinals choose the pope from within the College of Cardinals.

What are Bishops?

Bishops are the heads of Dioceses which are the geological divisions of the Church. The ‘chair of the Bishop’ is the Cathedral from Latin cathedra which means ‘chair’. Every Diocese has a Cathedral where the Bishop is the Pastor. An Archbishop is the bishop of a larger diocese (Archdiocese) and may have other bishops working under him. Bishops worldwide make up the Magisterium or the teaching body of the Church.

The Pope relies on advice from his advisors (primarily the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops) and the Nuncios (the ambassadors from Vatican City to countries with which it has diplomatic relations) to appoint Bishops. The laity (non-clergy) is also consulted at times. However, the final decision is the Pope’s. Bishops (except for the Pope) must retire at age 75.

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Lorraine Shelstad
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Related Topics: Faith, Pope, Benedict XVI, Election

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