Black smoke signals no pope elected at first conclave vote

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12 March 2013  10:26am EDT

  • Black smoke signals no pope elected at first conclave vote
Black smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City indicating that no decision has been made after the first day of voting for the election of a new pope, March 12, 2013. REUTERS-Dylan Martinez
Saint Peter's Basilica is seen reflected from atop the colonnade during the conclave in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 12, 2013. REUTERS-Alessandro Bianchi
A Swiss Guard is seen during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 12, 2013. All cardinals, including those over 80 who will not vote in the conclave, celebrate Mass in St Peter's Basilica to pray for the election of the new pope. The Mass is called 'Pro Eligendo Romano Pontefice' ('For the Election of the Roman Pontiff') and is open to the public. REUTERS-Stefano Rellandini

By Crispian Balmer and Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY | Tue Mar 12, 2013 3:51pm EDT

(Reuters) – Thick black smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney on Tuesday, signaling an inconclusive first vote in the conclave to elect a new pope at a time of strife and scandal for the Roman Catholic Church.

Thousands of faithful huddled in St. Peter’s Square to watch the smoke pour out of the narrow flue in the rain-laden gloom following a day rich in ritual and pageantry.

Earlier, after praying for divine guidance, the red-hatted cardinals took a solemn vow in Latin never to divulge any details of their deliberations. They then secluded themselves behind the chapel’s heavy wooden doors.

No conclave in the modern era has chosen a pope on its first day, and some cardinals speculated this week that it might take four or five days to pick the man to replace Pope Benedict, 85, who unexpectedly abdicated last month.

The so-called “Princes of the Church” will spend the night in a Vatican hotel before returning to the frescoed Sistine Chapel at 9:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) on Wednesday to continue voting, with two rounds set for the morning and two for the afternoon.

Until they choose a new pontiff, their only communication with the outside world will be the smoke from the Chapel chimney – black when voting sessions end with no result and white when a pontiff is elected.

The crowd’s excited cheers when the first puffs of smoke emerged swiftly turned to disappointed sighs when they saw that it was signaling no surprise early decision.

“I am on vacation and can’t believe how lucky I am to be here at this moment,” said Patricia Purdy, a retired teacher from New York, adding it was time for a younger pope.

“It would be good if he was young, so he can relate to younger people and bring them closer to the Church.”


Whoever becomes the 266th pontiff in the Church’s 2,000-year history will face a daunting array of problems, including sex abuse scandals, infighting within the Vatican bureaucracy and the spread of secularism in its European heartland and beyond.

No clear-cut front runner has emerged, with some prelates pushing for a strong manager to control the much criticized central administration, known as the Curia, while others want a powerful pastor to promote their faith across the globe.

Italy’s Angelo Scola and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer are spoken of as strong contenders. The former would return the papacy to Italy after 35 years in the hands of Poland’s John Paul II and the German Benedict XVI. Scherer would be the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III in the 8th century.

However, a host of other candidates have also been mentioned as “papabili” – potential popes – including U.S. cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley, Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Argentina’s Leonardo Sandri.

Latin chants accompanied the cardinals as they processed into the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s depiction of Christ delivering the Last Judgment on the back wall and his image of the hand of God giving life to Adam on the ceiling.

The doors were shut at 5.34 p.m. (1634 GMT) after the master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, said “Extra Omnes” (Latin for “Everyone Out”), asking all those not associated with the gathering to leave the room.

Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, who at 87 is too old to participate in the voting, remained inside to give a sermon to remind the 115 cardinal electors of the gravity of their responsibility.


Earlier, at a pre-conclave Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano called for unity in the Church and urged his brother cardinals to support the future pope.

“My brothers, let us pray that the Lord will grant us a pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart,” he said in his homily.

There are constant reminders of the scandals and controversies facing the Church.

In the past month, the only British cardinal elector recused himself from the conclave and apologized for sexual misconduct.

Police detained two women who staged a brief topless protest against the Church before the massed ranks of television crews who have come from around the world to follow the conclave.

All the prelates in the Sistine Chapel were appointed by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, and the next pontiff will almost certainly pursue their fierce defense of traditional moral teachings.

But Benedict and John Paul were criticized for failing to reform the Curia, and some churchmen believe the next pope must be a good chief executive or at least put a robust management team in place under him.

Vatican insiders say Scola, who has managed two big Italian dioceses without being part of the Vatican’s central administration, could be well placed to understand its Byzantine politics and introduce swift reform.

The still-influential Curia is said by the same insiders to back Scherer, who worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops for seven years before leading the Sao Paolo diocese – the largest in Brazil, the country with the most Catholics.

With only 24 percent of Catholics living in Europe, pressure is growing to choose a pontiff from elsewhere in the world who would bring a different perspective.

Latin American cardinals might worry more about poverty and the rise of evangelical churches than questions of materialism and sexual abuse that dominate in the West, while the growth of Islam is a major concern for the Church in Africa and Asia.

(Additional reporting by Naomi O’Leary, Catherine Hornby and Tom Heneghan; Editing by Barry Moody, Alastair Macdonald, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood)


Black smoke, white smoke: Vatican technique revealed


Agence France-Presse | Updated: March 12, 2013 23:55 IST

Black smoke, white smoke: Vatican technique revealed

Vatican City: The famous smoke from a chimney to indicate whether cardinals locked away in the Sistine Chapel have elected a pope is not created just by burning used ballots, the Vatican said Tuesday.

“We use smoke flares,” Paolo Sagretti, who was in charge of setting up the chapel for the election conclave, told AFP.

The ancient signalling system – still the only way the public learns whether a pope has been elected – used to involve mixing wet straw with the ballots to produce white smoke, and pitch to create black smoke.

After several episodes in which greyish smoke that could be interpreted as white or black created confusion, the Vatican introduced the surer system starting with the last conclave in 2005.

The Vatican now uses a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulphur to produce black smoke and potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin for white, the Vatican says on its website.

Two stoves stand in a corner of the chapel, one for burning the ballots and the other for the chemicals, with the smoke from both stoves going up a common flue.

An electronic control panel allows the choice between the two, and the correct compound is burned at the same time as the used ballots.

5 Responses to Black smoke signals no pope elected at first conclave vote

  1. Sylvia says:

    The Cardinals are now in conclave. Black smoke from today’s vote. No more voting until tomorrow. The cardinals have by now left the Sistine Chapel and returned to their hotel for the night. Tomorrow they will be back to the Sistine Chapel for the day and, barring reaching an early decision, a further four votes will be cast, tw0 in the morning and two in the afternoon. From Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff:

    74. In the event that the Cardinal electors find it difficult to agree on the person to be elected, after balloting has been carried out for three days in the form described above (in Nos. 62ff) without result, voting is to be suspended for a maximum of one day in order to allow a pause for prayer, informal discussion among the voters, and a brief spiritual exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Deacons. Voting is then resumed in the usual manner, and after seven ballots, if the election has not taken place, there is another pause for prayer, discussion and an exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Priests. Another series of seven ballots is then held and, if there has still been no election, this is followed by a further pause for prayer, discussion and an exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Bishops. Voting is then resumed in the usual manner and, unless the election occurs, it is to continue for seven ballots.

    75. If the balloting does not result in an election, even after the provisions of No. 74 have been fulfilled, the Cardinal electors shall be invited by the Camerlengo to express an opinion about the manner of proceeding. The election will then proceed in accordance with what the absolute majority of the electors decides.

    Nevertheless, there can be no waiving of the requirement that a valid election takes place only by an absolute majority of the votes or else by voting only on the two names which in the ballot immediately preceding have received the greatest number of votes; also in this second case only an absolute majority is required.

    76. Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.

    5,500 reporters are swarming the Vatican. Speculation is the order of the day. I’m sure it will get worse as the days wile on. I’ve truly never seen the likes of it.

    I pray that the Cardinals shall spend their time in prayer, earnestly seeking the will of God and listening to Him rather than to the bookies and media and special interest groups.

    Thankfully they can no longer tweet 🙂

  2. JG says:

    The “Franciscan” on the 7th ballot… 🙂


    • Sylvia says:

      Close JG 🙂 Not “the” Francisan, but a Jesuit who is a true Franciscan at heart and has chosen the name “Francis.”

      • JG says:

        I wasn’t guessing, Sylvia. I was just listening. Sometimes what you hear and what you understand are two different things. I am still curious, scared and waiting for what comes next…


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