TODAY   |  February 28, 2013

Secrets of the conclave: Selecting a new pope

As the final day of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy comes to a close, focus turns to the cardinals entrusted to elect the next leader of the church. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports on the upcoming conclave and the centuries-old tradition of a secret vote.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> leader of the pope. f ann is with us for that. good morning.

>> good morning. they come from all over the world. 115 cardinals from 38 nations. once that conclave starts they are shut off from the outside world until they choose a new pope. they take an oath of secrecy sequestered behind the walls of vatican city and don't emerge until there is a new pope. all cardinals stay in a residence called st. martha's house. george, take me inside the conclave. you're dealing with 118 princes of the church and that has to produce an interesting scenario.

>> most haven't lived in a dormitory a long time. remember in '78, one cardinal was fretting whether there would be a place to plug in his electric razor and somebody else worried about whether he could bring chocolate bars into the conclave.

>> the cardinals will be entirely disconnected from the rest of the world , no tv or phones or internet, no exceptions. a bus with blacked out windows takes the cardinals to the chapel on their daily vote. on the first day they may vote once in the afternoon. after that, two votes in the morning and two in the afternoon. all paper ballots, handwritten after each cardinal and burned after each vote. campaigning for the job is considered bad form. if the cardinal wants the job, there are subtle maneuvers.

>> a cardinal may come up and see a fellow cardinal and take his arm and lead him to have a coffee together and a five minute conversation can perhaps change the balance in a conclave.

>> pope benedict was stunned when he was elected after three votes.

>> i remember the senior cardinal going up, cardinal ratzinger and said, your eminence, will you accept to be the supreme pontiff of the catholic church . we all waited. he said, no, i can't. he said, i accept as the will of god.

>> reporter: white smoke from the chimney and peeling bells, signaling the next chapter in the history of the catholic church . now, to get the smoke right and get the smoke black, they add chemicals. in 2005 , when cardinal ratzinger was selected as pope and the smoke went up, we really couldn't tell. it was kind of gray and it wasn't until the bell started peeling, that's the other signal, there was a new pope. we're hoping this time they make it much clearer.

>> thank goodness for the bells, a fail safe measure and cannon rule 36 says no tweeting?

>> exactly. no tweeting and no facebook.

>> no instagram either. anne thompson , thank you, fascinating story. we