Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2013, 6:00 am
What's process for tabbing Benedict XVI's replacement?
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By Dan Lee
In the near future, cardinals, who in the Roman Catholic hierarchy are second only to the pope, will gather to elect a successor to Benedict XVI, who recently announced his resignation. Only cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to participate in the conclave.
The cardinals will meet in the historic Sistine Chapel, renowned for the spectacular ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo, painted over a period of four years (1508-12).
Art lovers throughout the world are familiar with Michelangelo's depiction of God creating Adam, which is actually just one of nine panels and not even the central one -- the creation of Eve got the place of honor in the center I'm surprised that feminist theologians haven't made more of that.
The ceiling frescoes are one of two massive works of art by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Several years after the completion of the ceiling frescoes, Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to do the Last Judgment, a fresco for the altar wall which Michelangelo took seven years to complete (1534-41).
Biagio da Cesena, a member of the papal court, complained that there was too much nudity in the painting, whereupon Michelangelo, who did not have a sense of humor, painted a picture of his critic in hell wearing donkey ears and entwined in a serpent's coil.
When the critic, who did not have a sense of humor either, complained to the pope about what Michelangelo had done to him, the pope, who did have a sense of humor, replied that he had no authority over what happened in hell.
Normally, the Sistine Chapel is crammed full of visitors during the hours that the Vatican Museums are open, with ushers repeatedly saying, "No photos," and "Silence," the latter doing little to still the murmur of the crowd. The tourists and ushers will all be gone during the conclave with only those eligible to participate in the conclave allowed to enter.
Each cardinals who is eligible to vote is given a rectangular ballot with the Latin phrase "Eligo in Summum Pontificem" ("I elect as the most high pontiff") at the top followed by space for writing in a name. The cardinals secretly fill out their ballots and fold them twice. Each cardinal in turn then walks to the altar, holding up the folded ballot for all to see, places it on a plate and then slides it into a receptacle, which traditionally has been a large chalice.
Three voting cardinals chosen at random serve as "scrutineers," or election judges. Each of the three scrutineers examines each ballot with the third scrutineer calling out the name on the ballot so that the cardinals in attendance can tally the votes. A two-thirds majority is needed for election, though changes introduced by John Paul II allow electing a pope by a simple majority if after multiple ballots, no one has received two-thirds of the votes cast.
After announcing the name on the ballot, the third scrutineer pierces the ballot with a needle through the word "Eligo" and places it on a thread securing all of the ballots. They are then burned. The throngs gathered in St. Peter's Square (which actually isn't a square at all -- it's an ellipse) watch to see the color of the smoke emerging from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. White smoke means that a new pope has been elected. Black smoke indicates that the voting has been inconclusive.
And who might the new pope be?
At this point, no one really knows -- not even the cardinals who will gather in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope.
And who might the front-runners be? More on that in a subsequent column.
Dan Lee, who teaches ethics at Augustana College, has on numerous occasions taken groups of Augustana students to Rome, where the itinerary includes visiting the Sistine Chapel; firstname.lastname@example.org.