A papal conclave is a meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a Bishop of Rome, who becomes the pope, when there is a vacancy in the office. The pope is considered by Catholics to be the successor of Saint Peter and earthly head of the Catholic Church. The conclave, the means for choosing the pope for little more than half of the time the church has been in existence, is now 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 to decree 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 had been elected. Conclaves are now held in the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican.
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