How the Papacy Works

By: Kevin Bonsor & Dave Roos

The Next Pope

Pope Francis leads the Christmas mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2013.

Once the new pope is elected, he meets with the cardinal deacon, the secretary of the College of Cardinals, the cardinal dean and the master of papal liturgical celebrations. The cardinal dean asks the elected pope two questions:

  1. Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?
  2. By what name do you wish to be called?

If the elected pope accepts, the master of papal liturgical celebrations certifies the acceptance by the new pope, as well as the pope's choice of name. The elected person immediately becomes the bishop of Rome, which gives him supreme power of the Catholic Church. Each cardinal elector then approaches the newly elected pope to pay homage and show his obedience to the pope.


After an election, it is tradition for the oldest cardinal in conclave to step to the balcony above St. Peter's Square and announce, "Habemus papam," which means "We have a new pope." The new pope then steps out on the balcony, addressing the world as pope for the first time, and imparts the Apostolic Blessing.

Once his inauguration is over, the new pope begins the day-to-day duties of papal responsibility. As spiritual leader of the world's largest religious following, and as the Vatican's head of state, the pope's responsibilities are vast. Here are just a few of his duties and activities:

  • Serves as bishop of the archdiocese of Rome, providing spiritual guidance to its members
  • Appoints bishops and cardinals
  • Presides at beatification and canonization ceremonies
  • Spreads the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church through his travels
  • Writes documents that define the Catholic Church's official position on issues facing the world
  • Confers with global leaders and politicians about these issues

The role of pope has evolved greatly in 2,000 years. At one time, the pope crowned emperors and carried military power. Today, the pope's secular power and duties are diminished, but the position still carries great spiritual influence as the leader of the world's largest religious sect.

For more information on the papacy, the Catholic Church and related topics, check out the links below.

Related Articles


  • The CIA World Factbook. "Holy See (Vatican City" (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • Catholic Encyclopedia. "Infallibility." (Jan. 27, 2014).
  • Donadio, Rachel. "Cardinals Pick Bergoglio, Who Will Be Pope Francis." The New York Times. March 13, 2014. (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Petrine theory." (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • The Guardian. "Every Pope ever: the full list." March 14, 2013. (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • Holy See Press Office. "The College of Cardinals Statistics." Jan. 2, 2014. (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • McElroy, Damien. "Pope Francis profile: who is Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" The Telegraph. March 13, 2013. (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • Pew Research Center. "U.S. Catholics: Key Data from Pew Research." Feb. 25, 2013. (Jan. 17, 2014)
  • Thavis, John, "Election of a new pope follows detailed procedure." Catholic News Service (Jan. 17, 2014)