How is the Pope chosen?
The Pope is chosen by the College of Cardinals, the most senior officials of the Catholic Church. The maximum number of electors is 120. During the election of Pope Francis, there were 203 cardinals from 69 countries, but only 115 cardinals were involved in the election of the Pope. During the time between a Pope’s death or resignation and the election of the next Pope, the College of Cardinals are responsible for governing the church.
Once the cardinals meet they are isolated in the Vatican until they reach an agreement. This process is called the Secret Conclave. During the Conclave, the cardinals discuss the merits of different candidates in complete secrecy. No contact is allowed with the outside world except in a legitimate medical emergency. Newspapers, magazines, radios, televisions and phones are removed.
The cardinals cast their ballots in an anonymous election, and a two-thirds majority is required to appoint a Pope. The ballots are burned after each vote. The smoke is visible to onlookers and signals if a Pope has been chosen. Black smoke means that the cardinals are still in the process of deciding. White smoke means there is a new Pope. The new Pope choses his Papal name and is dressed in the robes of the Pope. From the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the new Pope’s identity is announced using the Latin words “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum…habemus papam!” “I announce to you a great joy…we have a Pope!” The new Pope then steps forward and reveals himself to the world.