By now, most observers know the black smoke – and, we hope, white smoke soon – emerging from the chimney atop the Cistine Chapel comes from the ballots the cardinals cast to elect the next pope.
But that is not all that’s placed in the stove that sits at the back of the chapel. If a cardinal jots any notes about the man for whom he’s voting, those notes and the ballot from each cardinal are burned as well.
Before the ballots are burned, three cardinals tally up the votes and record them.
Now the Church has been keeping good notes for a very long time. So what happens to the recorded tally, even though the ballots themselves are burned?
The record, according to a message from the Vatican Information Service March 13, is saved for posterity under the rules of a 1996 document by Pope John Paul II, “Universi Dominici Gregis.” The rules were modified Feb. 22 this year by Pope Benedict XVI.
Once a new pope is elected, the presiding cardinal at the conclave, or camerlengo – Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone – will write a document approved by three assisting cardinals to declare the result of each voting session.
“This document is to be given to the (new) pope and will thereafter be kept in a designated archive, enclosed in a sealed envelope, which may be opened by no one unless the Supreme Pontiff gives explicit permission,” the rules state.
Knowledge of who voted for whom in each round of voting in a papal election is never to be shared outside the Cistine Chapel. But the voting record exists under seal, even if no one but the pope ever sees it.