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Vatican Blog: How Church Officials Plan To Signal A New Pope

WCBS 880's Rich Lamb Shares His Views From The Vatican
Birds fly over the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel on March 12, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Birds fly over the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel on March 12, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

By WCBS 880′s Rich Lamb

VATICAN CITY (WCBS 880) – With the first vote in this historic conclave now complete, the Vatican has followed through on its promise to avoid confusion over the color of the smoke from the Sistine Chapel and, in turn, the progress in the selection process.

The was no mistaking the thick black smoke that poured from the chimney this evening in the Vatican. The first vote is complete and there is no pope.

Officials at the Vatican promise that in this conclave there will be no ambiguity. When a new pope is elected, the smoke will be white and it will be accompanied by a chorus of bells ringing out across the Vatican and Rome itself.

That’s how it was supposed to happen back in 2005 when Cardinals gathered to choose the successor to John Paul II. Planners were sensitive to confusion in the past. That’s why they made it clear that white smoke needed to be accompanied by ringing bells.

The best laid plans don’t always work out that way. Two days into the conclave that brought Pope Benedict XVI, the smoke from the chimney appeared more grey than white.

PHOTOS: Papal Conclave Day 1

To compound the confusion, there were no bells right away. Pope or no pope? The worlds media suffered through some excruciating minutes before the bells arrived and made it clear a new pope had been chosen.

What happened? This week in Rome, eight years after the fact, I found my answer.

I spoke to Catholic University’s Fr. Kevin Irwin who said that in the excitement of the white smoke, the person who was supposed to make a phone call to the bell ringer just “dropped the ball” and forgot to do so.

Because the bells did not ring, as promised, some interpreted the “silence of the bells” as a signal that maybe the smoke signal was wrong, and that no pope had been chosen.

You already know the end of the story. The bells were wrong. The smoke was right, if slightly off white. Joseph Ratzinger’s historic papacy as Benedict XVI had begun.