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The pope resigns. And then what?
The six stages that lead from Benedict XVI's departure to the emergence of a new leader of the
Catholic church
am Jones
The Guardian, Thursday 28 February 2013 15.11 GMT

Pope Benedict XVI is the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who steps down at 8pm (7pm GMT), leaves the world's 1.2
billion Roman Catholics leaderless but not for very long. Here are six things to know about what
happens next.
1. The interregnum
As the emeritus pope leaves the Vatican for the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo and becomes the
first pontiff to resign in 600 years the operation to choose his successor begins. With the throne of
St Peter declared empty and the interregnum formally begun, as many of the 208 cardinals who can
make the journey will be expected to travel to the Vatican to help run the church in the absence of a
2. The college of cardinals
Although all members of the college of cardinals are entitled to have their say in the general
congregations, only 117 cardinal electors those cardinals aged under 80 have the final vote in
conclave on who will be the next pope. This year, only 115 of them are expected to attend the
conclave as Cardinal Keith O'Brien has resigned as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
following allegations of inappropriate behaviour and Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia has
said his eyesight is too poor to permit him to go to Rome.
3. The conclave
In one of his last acts as pope, Benedict issued a decree on Monday to allow the cardinals to bring
forward the start of the conclave which takes its name from the Latin phrase cum clave ("with key")
and refers to the fact the cardinals used to be locked in until they made their choice meaning the
gathering could begin as soon as next week. Prior to the decree, cardinals had to wait 15 days before
embarking on the conclave.
Letters inviting cardinals to join the conclave will be sent out on Friday, but the first meetings to
discuss a new pope are unlikely to take place before next Monday, with the conclave itself following a
few days later.
4. The process
The conclave is a highly secret affair, with the cardinal electors confined to their Vatican guesthouse
when not deliberating in the Sistine chapel, and any leaking punishable by automatic
excommunication. The building is swept for electronic listening devices. Anyone unconnected to the
conclave or without a vote is ordered out of the chapel and the voting then gets under way.
5. The white smoke
A single ballot may be held on the first day of the conclave, rising to two rounds on subsequent days.
The ballot is repeated morning and afternoon until a pope is chosen by a two-thirds majority, and the
used ballot papers are burned in a stove at the corner of the chapel after each round. Black smoke
rising from the chapel's chimney signifies an inconclusive vote (traditionally damp straw was added
to make the smoke black but a chemical compound is now used instead); white smoke and the
pealing of the basilica's bell to avoid any confusion about the colour of the smoke means that a new
pope has been elected.
6. The new pope
The candidate is then asked to accept the role and choose his papal name. He changes into white papal
gowns before returning to the Sistine chapel, where the cardinals offer a pledge of obedience. He then
goes to the balcony over the main door of St Peter's basilica, and is introduced to the world as the new
pope before giving his blessing to the waiting crowd.