In a 1996 decree, Pope John Paul II prescribed these steps to be followed after a pontiff's death:
_Vatican chamberlain, with others, verifies death.
_Vatican announces death and summons College of Cardinals. Heavy chains block door of papal palace, signifying interregnum has begun.
_Chamberlain destroys symbols of pope's authority: fisherman's ring and dies used to make lead seals for apostolic letters.
_Funeral to be held within four to six days.
_Appointments of top Vatican officials cease but assistants continue routine business. College of Cardinals temporarily governs church. Chamberlain becomes chief administrator and organizes conclave, the papal election by cardinals.
_Conclave begins 15 to 20 days after death.
_Cardinals eligible for conclave (those under age 80) sequestered within Vatican City and take oath of secrecy.
_Any Roman Catholic eligible for election as pope, but only cardinals have been selected since 1378.
_Two ballots held each morning and two each afternoon in Sistine Chapel. If no one gets required two-thirds majority after about 12 days, cardinals may change procedure and elect pope by simple majority.
_Ballots burned after each round. Black smoke means no decision; white smoke signals that cardinals have chosen pope and he has accepted.
_New pope introduced at St. Peter's Square and imparts his first blessing.