A papal conclave is a meeting of the College of Cardinals to elect the Pope of the Catholic Church (or Bishop of Rome) who, as he is considered the Successor of Saint Peter, is the head of the Church. The conclave is the oldest ongoing method for choosing the leader of an institution.
A history of political interference in these elections and consequently long vacancies between popes, and most immediately the interregnum of 1268-1271, prompted the Second Council of Lyons which decreed in 1274 that the electors should be locked in seclusion cum clave (Latin for "with a key"), and not permitted to leave until a new Bishop of Rome is elected. Conclaves are now held in the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.
In the early centuries of Christianity the bishop of Rome (like other bishops) was chosen by the consensus of the clergy and people of Rome. The body of electors was more precisely defined when, in 1059, the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors. Since then other details of the process have developed. In 1970 Pope Paul VI limited the electors to cardinals under 80 years of age. The Pope may change the procedures for electing his successor by issuing an apostolic constitution; the current procedures were established by Pope John Paul II in his constitution Universi Dominici Gregis and amended by a motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI dated 11 June 2007.
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