By Giulia Segreti in Rome
Since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down on February 28, saying he was now “simply a pilgrim who is starting the last stretch of his pilgrimage on this earth”, the Catholic Church has been in a state of sede vacante, literally “vacant seat”. The cardinals are gathering in Rome to elect a new pope; here is how they will do it.
When will the next pope be elected? A date for the beginning of the conclave of cardinals, when the election process begins, has not been chosen by the college of cardinals. However, one of Benedict’s last decrees means they can bring the election forward and break the usual rule of having a minimum of 15 days after a pope dies or leaves office provided all the cardinals who can vote have gathered. So they could start any day now.
Who gets to choose? Only cardinals, or “princes of the church”, and not all of them. There are at present 210 members of the college of cardinals but only those under the age of 80 on the first day of the sede vacante can pick a pope, which whittles it down to 115. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic and only elector, opted to not join the conclave following allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour and his decision to resign as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Because of old age and an inability to reach Rome, Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, from Indonesia, will not be entering the conclave, either.