When a Pope Dies

The death of a pope puts into motion a formal, age-old process that includes certifying his death, arranging for the body to lie in state, organizing a funeral and preparing for the election of a successor. The pope's chief of staff, or camerlengo, is in charge of all arrangements.

The camerlengo:

1. Ceremonially verifies the pope's death by calling out his baptismal name three times. If there is no response, a death certificate is authorized and the event is made public by notifying the cardinal vicar for the Diocese of Rome, currently Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

2. Locks the papal desk, supervises the cutting of telephone lines, locks the pope's private apartment and seals the doors with red ribbons. Prepares for the funeral, to be held within four to six days of the pope's death, and the nine-day period of mourning.

3. Arranges for the breaking of the papal seal and the pope's ring, known as "the ring of the fisherman." These items are unique to each pope and are buried with him.

The period between the pope's death and the election of his successor is called the interregnum.

Election of the new pope is the prerogative of the College of Cardinals, who meet within 15 to 20 days in the Sistine Chapel to choose his successor from among their number by secret ballot. Only Cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote. Their ballots are read aloud and tallied. The votes of at least two-thirds of the eligible cardinals present plus one are required for a candidate to be named pope. If 30 rounds of balloting fail to produce a successor, the cardinals may agree to accept a simple majority, half of those present plus one. (Pope John Paul II was elected after eight votes that took two days.)

With each unsuccessful vote, the cardinals release black smoke through a chimney visible from Saint Peter's Basilica. When the College of Cardinals has elected a new pope, white smoke is released to announce that a new pope has been chosen.

SOURCES: Christopher M. Bellitto, www.catholic-pages.com, www.Vatican.va | The Washington Post

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