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Death and election of a pope

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Definition:   The rites and special ceremonies that accompany the passing and succession of popes. After death, the Cardinal Camerlengo calls out the name of the pope three times in a ritual to assure that he is in fact dead. He removes the “ring of the fisherman” and destroys it using a silver hammer. This is to prevent any backdated forgeries from being sealed with the old ring. The Carmerlengo is also responsible for the funeral arrangements and leads the conclave of the College of Cardinals who are responsible for electing the new pope. The conclave is held in the Sistine Chapel in absolute secrecy. Contact with the outside world is not permitted. Any Cardinal who breaks silence is subject to automatic excommunication. After deliberation the cardinals complete paper ballots, writing the name of the successor pope. The votes are tallied and if a two-thirds majority is accomplished, the new pope has been determined. If consensus is not achieved, voting continues. Under new rules promulgated by John Paul II, after a certain number of votes a simple majority suffices. This prevents the necessity of considering a compromise candidate to achieve the two-thirds majority. It has become customary to then burn the ballots in a fireplace to keep the voting secret and to inform the world that the new pope has been chosen.  The cardinals swear their allegiance to the pope and the papal vestments are bestowed. Until the “reign” of John Paul II, a public coronation ceremony was performed – the new pope was carried on a papal throne and crowned with the triregnum or triple crown.

Discussion: The media coverage of the death of John Paul II and the election of his successor was nothing less than breathtaking. It is estimated that over four million people (including the largest gathering of heads of state in history) attended the funeral. In the age of mass communication and the internet, billions of people likely witnessed the events leading up to the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Dissenting voices (who rightly claim that the pope is the usurper of Christ and the leader of a false religious system) are drowned out amidst the publicity surrounding the papacy.

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