con·clave (knklv, kng-) n. A secret or confidential meeting. Roman Catholic Church. The private rooms in which the cardinals meet to elect a new pope. The meeting held to elect a new pope. A meeting of family members or associates.
The Council of Constance (1417) modified the rules of the conclave to such an extent that the cardinals of the three "obediences" took part in it as well as six prelates from each of the five nations.
Access to the conclave is free through one door only, locked from without by the Marshal of the Conclave (formerly a member of the Savelli, since 1721 of the Chigi, family), and from within by the cardinal camerlengo.
Once the conclave begins the door is not again opened until the election is announced, except to admit a cardinal who is late in arriving.
Sometime in the coming years, the Vatican will host its own unique form of election called a conclave, and the shoe will be on the other foot: Church leaders will be called on to explain one of the oldest and most arcane systems of voting in the world.
The conclave is not an expression of representative democracy, as Vatican officials are fond of pointing out, but recent popes have made an effort to promote more geographical balance by naming cardinals from Third World countries.
The cardinals fall off the conclave voting rolls when they reach age 80, which keeps the average age of the cardinal-electors at a relatively youthful 71 and a half.
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