Under the pomp, it's high politics
NEW YORK TIMES
VATICAN CITY -- It begins with prayers chanted in an ancient language and ends with a tiny figure on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica unveiled as the supreme pontiff of more than 1 billion Catholics.
While carried out in the trappings of past centuries, "In reality, the elections are a political fact," said Paolo Francia, author of "The Conclave."
The voting is minutely scripted. Rectangular paper ballots are counted, collected, pierced with a needle and burned. Exactly four rounds of voting are permitted each day. The winner's name is intoned in Latin.
It is a process dating back centuries, with a rich history of chicanery -- like the bought election of Julius II in 1503 and the undermining of a leading contender, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, in 1978, thanks to the leaking of an embargoed interview he gave.
There are no formal nominees, and technically, each cardinal enters the conclave as a possible pope. The winner must garner two-thirds of the votes.
The first ballot, expected late this afternoon, serves effectively as a primary. It identifies the cardinals to whom votes can flow in succeeding rounds -- two every morning, two every afternoon.
The extras to the drama are sworn to secrecy, on pain of excommunication. The secretary of the College of Cardinals, priests for cardinal confessions, doctors, nurses, elevator operators, security officers, cleaning and meal crews and minibus drivers -- all took the oath Monday in the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace.
Today, when they arrive in the chapel, the cardinals swear an oath to follow the constitution on papal elections and to keep secrecy.
Then, the master of papal liturgical celebrations gives the order "Extra omnes" -- "Everyone out" -- and almost all but the cardinals leave.