Papal conclave: When to watch for smoke

U.S. priests wait for smoke in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.
(Massimo Percossi / European Pressphoto Agency)

After failing to decide on a new pope in their first vote Tuesday, Roman Catholic cardinals are settling into a regular schedule of balloting in the Sistine Chapel until they have a winner.

The ritualized voting is closed to the public, but smoke is used to signal to those waiting outside whether the 115 cardinals in the conclave have elected a new pope to lead 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. When two-thirds of cardinals agree on a new pontiff, white smoke will go up from the chapel. Black smoke means no decision has been reached.


Cardinals can vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. If the cardinals cannot agree twice in a row, the ballots are burned after each morning or afternoon round of voting.

Those awaiting the decision will watch the Sistine Chapel for smoke beginning in the late morning, Rome time, and continuing until a final vote in the early evening. If no pope is chosen on the first and third ballots each day, there is no signal, but if that happens on the second or fourth vote of the day, the deadlock will be signaled with black smoke.

Once white smoke appears, it is expected to take about 45 minutes before the name of the new pope is announced and he greets the crowd from the balcony of the basilica. If the cardinals cannot agree on a new pope Wednesday, the process will continue Thursday.


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Staff writer Henry Chu in Vatican City contributed to this report.