The secrecy of the conclave is assured by shutting off the cardinals completely from the outside world, but the results of a voting session are revealed to the outside by the burning of the paper ballots. If the vote is inconclusive, substances are added to produce black smoke white smoke, which is followed by the tolling of St. Peter's bells, signifies that a new pope has been chosen. At one time expedition was encouraged by severe restriction of the cardinals' diet after a few days.
Theoretically any adult male Roman Catholic is eligible to be pope, but long-standing practice limits the candidates to cardinals. Before John Paul II was elected in 1978, the last non-Italian elected was Adrian VI, a Netherlander, in 1522. Francis I, elected in 2013, was the first person from the Americas to be elected pope. In the vacancy of the Holy See the entire college of cardinals holds the papal jurisdiction, but its powers are extremely limited.
The popes were at first elected like other bishops, by the clergy and laity of the diocese serious political interference was discouraged in 769 by the exclusion of the laity from papal election. Participation in the election was limited (1059) to the cardinals by Nicholas II the conclave was set up (1274) in its modern form by Gregory X. Decrees by Pius XII in 1945, John XXIII in 1962, Paul VI in 1975, John Paul II in 1996, and Benedict XVI in 2013 now fix the regulations for papal elections.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches: General Terms and Concepts
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