Alessandra Tarantino/APAll Things Considered:
Most of the 115 "cardinal electors" will be housed in two-room suites in a guesthouse run by nuns. The accommodation is, by all accounts, modest — three- rather than five-star.How many days will it last? I'd put the over-under at 3.
On hand is a team of cooks, doctors (the average age of this group of cardinals is 72), priests (to take confession) and technicians to enforce a communications blackout, both in the guesthouse and the Sistine Chapel, where the balloting takes place. The Vatican is determined to prevent any outside interference — or news leaking out from a tweeting cleric.
"The phone doesn't work, the TV doesn't work. They have no e-mail, they have no Internet, they have no cellphones," says Father Thomas J. Reese of the National Catholic Reporter, who is an authority on the workings of the conclave.
On Tuesday morning, the "cardinal electors" will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Then, mid-afternoon, they walk into the Sistine Chapel in procession while singing prayers, and take their places.
After the cardinals have sworn oaths — to observe the rules and maintain secrecy — everyone who is not part of the conclave is ordered out with the announcement "Extra omnes!" or "Everybody out!"
The cardinals likely will vote once Tuesday, writing their choice on a small ballot paper. They walk up, one by one, and deposit this in an urn on an altar. Papers are counted by three cardinals, one of whom reads out the names. A two-thirds majority is required.
After the first day, there are two ballots each morning and two each afternoon until a pope is elected.
Ballot papers are burned in a stove inside the Sistine Chapel that's connected to a chimney on the roof.
If there is no victor, the smoke — with the help of some chemicals — comes out black. White smoke signals a new man has been chosen.
That, at any rate, is what's supposed to happen.