Black smoke signals no pope selected in first vote by cardinals

VATICAN CITY – Black smoke rose Tuesday evening from the Sistine Chapel, signaling that the 115 cardinals gathered inside to choose a new pope failed to reach agreement after their opening few hours of deliberation.

It was the prelates’ first vote on a successor to Benedict XVI, who stepped down as pope late last month in an extraordinarily rare move for the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The ritualized process of choosing his replacement began Tuesday behind the closed doors of the small but famous chapel, which is covered in Michelangelo’s glorious frescoes. All 115 of the red-hatted cardinals, the “princes” of the church, swore an oath of secrecy at the start of their conclave.

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To be named the church’s 266th pontiff, a candidate will have to win the support of at least two-thirds of the cardinals, meaning 77 votes. With a larger field of papabili, or potential popes, than in the most recent conclaves, the first vote was not widely expected to yield a decision.


The ballots are burned after each morning and afternoon round of votes, with special chemicals added to color the smoke and alert the outside world of the outcome. Black smoke is sent up if the cardinals cannot agree on a new choice; white smoke is issued and the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica toll when a new pope has been elected.


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