Electing a New Pope

The procedure following the death or resignation of a Pope was revised by the Vatican in February 1996. The document Universi Dominici Gregis - 'The shepherd of the Lord's whole flock' - replaces the previous instruction of 1975 from Pope Paul VI. The norms regulating the election of a successor have always been the remit of the Pope partly because of the need to take into account the "changing needs of the historical moment" and partly because the office of the Pope was divinely created. “The Shepherd of the Lord's whole flock is the Bishop of the Church of Rome, where the Blessed Apostle Peter, by sovereign disposition of divine Providence, offered to Christ the supreme witness of martyrdom by the shedding of his blood.” Benedict XVI amended the norms slightly in his final Motu Proprio 'Normas nonnullas' in February 2013. The Conclave that will elect the 265th Successor of St Peter convenes on Tuesday 12 March 2013. In this section you will find information about the process of electing a new Pope.


Resignation of a Pope

The possibility of the resignation of a reigning Pontiff is recognised in the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church. The Code states, "If it should happen...Read more


The Electors

Since 1059, the election of the Pope has been reserved to the cardinals alone and this is their principal function - this is the first thing said about them...Read more


College of Cardinals

During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified. All heads of departments (including the Se...Read more


The Conclave

The institution of the Conclave is the mechanism by which a new pope is elected. While not strictly necessary by nature, theologically or canonically, it has...Read more


The Election

After the death of the Pontiff, the cardinal electors who are present, must wait for 15 days for those who are absent; the College of Cardinals has the power...Read more


The Ballots

Voting begins on the first day, when one ballot is held in the afternoon if possible. If the first ballot does not produce a result, there are two ballots ea...Read more


Resolving the Deadlock

The election goes forward in the way that the majority of electors decide. A result can now come from an absolute majority or by a vote on the two names that...Read more


Observance of Secrecy

Even though they are no longer locked in, the process is still referred to as a “Conclave” and the process is made as private and secret as possible, even to...Read more


The New Pope

If the person elected is not already a bishop, he shall immediately be ordained bishop. The successful candidate is then asked by the Dean of the College of...Read more