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The sacred politicking to elect the next pope moved into its final phase Tuesday, as 115 cardinals checked into isolated quarters, attended Mass and prepared to lock themselves into the Sistine Chapel to begin the secret and highly ceremonial conclave to choose Benedict XVI’s successor. Follow along for the latest news, analysis and updates from our reporters in Rome and in Washington.


Video: Black smoke appears at Vatican

Photos: Crowd gathers in St. Peter’s Square

Throngs are gathered in St. Peter's Square Tuesday awaiting news of the pope from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, showing that even in the age of tweeting popes and livestreaming conclaves, the Catholic Church often still chooses to operate according to ancient rituals.






No pope yet: Black smoke emitted from chimney atop Sistine Chapel

Black smoke emitted from the newly installed chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday evening in Rome, indicating that the first vote to elect a pope was unable secure the necessary 77 votes (2/3 of the gathered cardinals).

The cardinals now hold evening prayers known as Vespers in the Sistine Chapel, and then move to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the five-story dormitory where they will reside away from the world for the duration of the conclave. They will resume voting Wednesday with a pair of votes in the morning and in the afternoon, repeating until they have a pope.

Has the papacy already changed?

Pope Benedict announced his resignation  Feb. 11, becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to abdicate.

Reporting from Rome, the Post's Anthony Faiola writes that some of the mystique around the Catholic papacy has been dinged by a decade of sexual abuse scandals, fading authority and, perhaps surprisingly, the voluntary resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

"The hierarchy is reeling from scandal. Just as important, the numinous aura of the office has been altered by the decision of Benedict to step down, appearing to dispel the otherworldly quality of popes as divinely picked to serve for life."

"The precedent sent by a papal resignation could open the door to something heretofore seen as an oxymoron: a modern papacy, with the Holy Father as chief executive under constant pressure to perform or step down. Some argue the next pope will be more beholden to the board (his global prelates) and the shareholders (the 1.2 billion faithful) of Catholics Inc. than ever before."

Video: Cardinals enter Sistine Chapel for papal conclave

Your conclave must-read, coming to you from a Philly basement

Michelle Boorstein introduces readers Tuesday to Rocco Palmo, the prolific Catholic blogger seen by many as the most plugged-in Vaticanista this side of the Atlantic.

“He gives voice to what people are whispering,” said Monsignor Charles Antonicelli, pastor of St. Thomas Apostle Church in Northwest Washington, who met Palmo through friends. “There are many bishops I know who go to this Web site first thing in the morning. He has good sources, here and in Rome.”

A Catholic TV interview with Palmo is below. Behold, we have a papal blogger.

The hidden ‘person’ at the conclave? The Holy Spirit.

Often described as the third person in the Holy Trinity (along with God and Jesus), the Holy Spirit is said to preside in a special way over conclave proceedings.

While there is no doubt that jockeying and politicking are involved in the choice to lead the largest church on earth, Catholic leaders often speak about the quiet of the conclave as a time to listen to the Holy Spirit, who helps them to make the right choice.

The Rev. James Martin, SJ wrote in Time that while he knows of many examples of corrupt popes elected without divine input, "the Holy Spirit can move the cardinals to choose those persons who are most able to meet these needs and respond to the 'signs of the times.'”

Writes On Faith contributor Mathew Schmalz: "The conclave--in its seclusion, in its focus on the interior as opposed to the external—-is designed to select the candidate who has that special openness to the Holy Spirit."

In the video below, Catholic commentator Jimmy Akin explains how Catholics understand the Holy Spirit.

With ‘extra omnes,’ cardinals begin secret conclave

Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgical celebrations, has given the “extra omnes,” meaning "everyone out!" The only people left are the 115 voting cardinals and a handful of clerks. The doors to the Sistine Chapel have been closed and will be locked with a key (thus giving the name conclave — "with key").

The cardinals are expected to vote once Tuesday, and although a pontiff is not expected to be selected today, it is possible. All eyes now turn to the smokestack atop the chapel, from which smoke will indicate the state of the papacy voting to the watching world. The AP notes:

"Black smoke means “not yet.” White smoke means “pope elected.”

Catholic TV says that the next pictures that will be taken of the cardinals will be of the new holy father.

Cardinals swear ‘greatest fidelity’ to conclave secrecy

The 115 cardinal electors have processed into the Sistine Chapel and sworn themselves to secrecy about the details of the conclave and its votes. They promised "to bind ourselves and to swear to observe faithfully and scrupulously" the conclave guidelines.

All the gathered cardinals promised to "undertake to carry out faithfully the petrine ministry as pastor of the universal church." While repeated as a group, those words will dramatically change the life of one of the men gathered in the chapel Tuesday.

Below is the secrecy oath the cardinals repeated as a group, as translated by Catholic TV:

"Above all, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons clerical and lay, the secret of all that in any way relates to the election of the roman pontiff, and of what happens in this place of the election with proximation, with concern directly or indirectly to the ballot, not to violate in any way the secret both during and after after the election of the new pontiff unless I have been granted explicit permission by the pope himself; never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order or decree or any group or people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the roman pontiff. I pledge so I promise and swear, so help me god and these holy Gospel of God upon which I place my hand."

The cardinals then proceeded to each take an individual oath upon the Gospel.

Does Congress need a conclave?

The Rev. Thomas Reese, an influential Catholic commentator, explained Tuesday the pragmatic history of Catholic conclaves in the National Catholic Reporter. Reese notes that the isolation of the conclave is imposed, at least in part, to prevent deadlock and force the cardinals to make a decision. Know another governing body that might take note? Writes Reese:

If you want a budget, lock up the Congress, take away their cellphones and Internet, don't let them go to fundraisers, and if necessary put them on bread and water until they pass a budget. It has worked for hundreds of years in the Catholic Church, it might even work in Washington.

Video: What happens inside the Sistine Chapel when the world is shut out?

Catholic News Service takes viewers inside the conclave, talking with influential cardinals about what happens when they are, quite literally, locked inside the Sistine Chapel and compelled to elect the next pope.

Cardinals to open conclave invoking the Holy Spirit

The 115 cardinal electors will proceed into the Sistine Chapel chanting a litany of the saints and then singing "Veni, Sancte Spiritus," (Come Holy Spirit). After finding their places, cardinals will take an oath of secrecy, pledging never to reveal the details of conclave votes. Then, reports The Post’s Jason Horowitz:

Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgical celebrations and a famous stickler for the rules, will cry “extra omnes” meaning “everyone out!” All but the cardinals will then make for the doors, allowing the princes of the church to get down to the business of picking the 266th pope.