Sometime in March – Vatican rules seem to indicate March 15 – an estimated 115 Catholic cardinals will enter the Sistine Chapel to deliberate and elect the next head of the Roman Catholic Church. The proceedings of this papal conclave will be kept secret while crowds gather outside awaiting the announcement of the 266th pontiff. To get a better idea of the proceedings, take a look at these photos from the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
While papal conclaves are held behind closed doors and generally kept under wraps, some consensus has emerged around the procedures followed to fill a vacant papacy. The first vote is generally held on the afternoon of the first day. If no cardinal receives a two-thirds majority of votes, four ballots are held on each subsequent day. Should the electors be unable to select a vote after three days, the process is suspended for up to one day of prayer, then begins again.
The crowds gathered outside in St. Peter’s Square, meanwhile, look expectantly at the chimney placed atop the Sistine Chapel. If no pope is elected after voting, the ballots are burned with materials or chemicals added to create dark smoke. Once a pope has been chosen, white smoke rises from the chimney and bells begin ringing to signal the election of the church’s next leader.