How will a new Pope be chosen?

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

To most, the selection of a new Pope comes down to a puff of smoke — literally.


When a Pope has been picked, it is signalled through a tradition that dates back more than a century: a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

But what goes on behind the scenes before that?

In this case, what happens before we learn who will succeed the retiring Pope Benedict the Sixteenth?

“I do find this a bit like trying to read the entrails of chickens … and you can quote me on that.”

The speaker is talking of trying to analyse the conclave that will name a successor to Pope Benedict the 16th, head of the world’s 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church.

And the speaker is Professor Neil Ormerod — a professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney.

That is how mysterious the process can be, so murky that even a Catholic theologian, asked if it reminds him of any other process, impishly suggests, yes, but won’t elaborate.

“It does, but not to organisations I’d want to publicly link the Catholic Church to … Look, it’s very much built on these personal relationships, relationships that people build up over years and decades. And I think it’s quite different from the sort of modern, democratic- or meritocracy-type models that we’re used to. It’s much more built on those personal relations. So it’s difficult to find modern comparisons.”

In part, that is because the papal conclave, or meeting of the Church’s College of Cardinals, dates back to the year 1274, with only periodic, mostly minor changes.

Historically, the naming of a new Pope has often been an achingly slow process.

Not this time, though.

After becoming the first Pope in nearly 600 years to resign his position instead of carrying it to his death, Pope Benedict has now pushed forward the naming of his replacement, too.

This week, he issued a decree allowing the qualified cardinals — all of those under age 80 — to move ahead with the conclave to elect his successor.

“I leave the College of Cardinals the possibility to bring forward the start of the conclave once all cardinals are present.”

Traditionally held up to a month after the papacy is vacated — including nine days of official mourning for a deceased Pope — this one will begin just days after Pope Benedict finishes.

After the 85-year-old Pope steps down, the plan is for the cardinals to almost immediately begin meeting informally to discuss the conclave.

A Vatican spokesman says they could agree on a date in the very first days of March.

The general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, is predicting the end result will be a new pope about 15 years younger.

“I think, probably, the (choice) would be (someone) either side of 70. Someone too much at the bottom end of the 60s, late 50s — John Paul the Second was 58 — that tends to suggest a long papacy, which is good if you get it right but not so good if you don’t get it right, and an extraordinary burden on the individual. We tend to forget that this is a human being in this role.”

Father Lucas suggests the cardinals will look for someone who is not just academic and not just bureaucrat – someone with both governance abilities and a breadth of vision.

He describes a conclave process that perhaps most closely, in modern terms, resembles a sequestered jury.

The process begins informally, with the the cardinals flying into Rome from around the world for the pre-conclave gathering.

Father Lucas says the cardinals will get to know each other, discuss the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses and hear presentations about the Church’s needs right now.

Those informal meetings could take days, but, when the actual conclave begins, the whole tenor changes.

The cardinals — about 115 in number — gather in the small Sistine Chapel, with its renowned Michelangelo-painted ceiling, and get down to selecting the new Pope.

From that point on, they will be cut off from all outside influence, all media, until they elect a Pope.

Father Lucas says the isolation is rigorously enforced.

“Once the actual voting begins, they are housed in a hostel inside Vatican City. It was built by Pope John Paul the Second precisely for this purpose — the Casa Santa Marta. It’s a hostel which normally is used by various clerics who work in the Vatican offices. They’ll all vacate. The cardinals will then walk through the Vatican Gardens to the Sistine Chapel. The Swiss Guards will ensure that there’s no influence upon them, that they can’t be accosted by anybody. All of the staff who attend to their domestic needs and so on are all sworn to secrecy.”

And the voting begins.

Father Lucas says he is told each cardinal writes his vote on a piece of paper, walks up to a table where three cardinal scrutineers accept his ballot, then announces his vote.

After that happens 115 times, the votes are counted.

Much like the run-off election of many countries, the voting for perhaps 20 to 30 candidates in the first round then narrows to the true contenders.

The cardinals hold two ballots each morning and two each afternoon until someone gets two-thirds of the votes.

It is a requirement Pope Benedict reinstated in place of a simple majority, because, Father Lucas says, the Pope felt a simple majority carried an inherent risk.

“I think that, probably, we have to appreciate that this is the person who has to be the leader of the whole Church. And unlike what we’re used to with our elections in the two-party system in Australia, the United States, where you only need to get that one extra vote to get the majority, well, if you get a hundred people and 51 vote for you, you’ve still got to remember there are 49 who voted against you. And as we know in Australia with our hung parliament, it doesn’t go much for good governance to have that sort of, uh, tight situation.”

Instead, one possibility is that the College of Cardinals actually diverts from the leading candidates in a sharply divided contest and settles for an alternative candidate.

This conclave comes with the Vatican engulfed in a climate of intrigue and scandal, capped now by British Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation over allegations of improper behaviour.

He denies the allegations that he made sexual advances towards priests in the 1980s but says he will stay away from the conclave to avoid the media attention he would bring.

Some in the Church reportedly fear that pushing the conclave forward favours those working in and around the Vatican — essentially, the old guard under whom the problems festered.

But Neil Ormerod, the professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University, suggests the shift in timing is more about making one concession to modern times.

“I think it’s largely logistic. I mean, a lot of the cardinals would already be on their way there, I would think. It’s really a question of, these are busy men with large agendas in their own dioceses, or in their Roman dicasteries, and you want to be as efficient as you can so that people can get back to their day jobs.”

Comment: Portion size affects how much you eat

By Lenny R.



Think about the last meal you had, and ask yourself why you ate as much as you did, not more or less. Chances are that your answer had to do with how hungry or how full you were. But that’s not the whole story.

For many years, researchers thought that how much food people ate was primarily driven by internal physiological signals: you start eating when you are hungry and stop eating when you are full.

Many people still believe this to be true. But since the 1970s, researchers have identified a number of non-physiological or external factors that influence people’s food intake in quite powerful ways.

The external factor that has received the most attention from researchers and from the media is the portion size of food. This is because people tend to eat what they are served – and larger portions can lead to overeating.

Portions and mindless eating

Portion sizes have increased dramatically over the past few decades; this is true of portions served in shops, restaurants, and even in homes.

What’s perhaps most striking about this research is that people eat more from larger portions even when they are not particularly hungry and even when the food doesn’t taste very good.

When people eat in response to external cues such as portion size, their behaviour is described as “mindless” eating – either they are unaware of the presence of the external cue, or are unaware that the cue is influencing them.

If that is the case, then increasing people’s awareness of these external factors should put them in a better position to resist the influence of those factors. Education may be the key.

Becoming mindful

Some colleagues and I recently put this idea to the test. In our study, female students took part in an educational exercise before being served a small or a large portion of pasta for lunch.

In both groups, the pasta was served on dishes of the same size, but participants in the small-portion condition were served 350 grams of pasta, and those in the large-portion condition were served 600 grams.

The educational exercise required participants to read a brochure that described a variety of external influences on food intake, including portion size.

They were then asked to write about their experiences of being influenced by these types of factors. This exercise was designed to raise the participants’ awareness of the impact that these external influences can have on their food intake.

If the lack of awareness of influential external factors was key to people eating more, then by educating them about these factors, the exercise should have decreased the influence of portion size on their subsequent food intake.

It did not. Those in the large portion group ate 30% more pasta than those in the small portion group.

Getting smaller

It seems that the influence of portion size is resistant to simple awareness. This is probably because the amount of food that we ought to eat is fairly ambiguous in many situations.

Take, for example, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a cocktail party, or even dinner at your grandmother’s house. How much should you and do you eat in each of these situations? Is it the same amount across all of them?

Because the appropriate amount to eat is often not very clear, people rely on a range of external cues to help guide their behaviour. They might just eat what they are served. And the more they are served, the more they will eat.

If this is the case, then education on its own may not be enough.

One strategy frequently suggested as a way for people to avoid overeating is to use smaller plates; smaller plates should hold smaller portions so less food will be consumed.

It turns out that this is only partly true.

Smaller plates appear to reduce food intake only if there is less food available overall. If people are serving themselves from a large supply of food, then they will either pile more on their plates, or go back for seconds or thirds.

What can be done

If these strategies are unable to reduce how much we eat, is it time to start talking seriously about regulations, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt last year to institute a ban on jumbo-sized soft drinks in certain food outlets?

These types of proposals are typically met with a fair bit of resistance and the terms “nanny state” and “food police” creep into the discussion. Opponents argue that people should be able to make their own food choices.

But if people are generally unable to overcome the influence of external factors on their food intake, if more reasonable portions of food are not readily available, or if economic incentives continue to favour purchasing larger portions, how much confidence can we have in people’s ability to make healthy choices?

If we expect people to take personal responsibility for their food choices, then we need to provide them with the genuine opportunity to make healthy choices. That opportunity does not seem to be available in our current food environment.

Lenny R. Vartanian receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Year in review: African warlords face the courts

Crimes against humanity, aiding and abetting war crimes, recruiting child soldiers are just some of the crimes former and sitting African leaders and rebel leaders were found guilty or accused of in 2012.


Santilla Chingaipe looks back at the year that was in some high profile African legal cases.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The year began with the International Criminal Court ruling that two presidential candidates in Kenya must stand trial over crimes against humanity following post-election violence in 2007.

The ICC said Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former minister William Ruto will both face charge.

They are among four prominent Kenyans – all of whom deny the accusations – who the ICC said will stand trial.

But as 2012 drew to a close, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were still free men, and planning to run for the Kenya’s presidency at the 2013 presidential and parliamentary polls.

Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor became the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg following the Second World War.

The 64-year-old was sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes in the neighbouring African nation of Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

The sentence came after five years of hearings at the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.

Taylor was charged with 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

He showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Richard Lussick delivered the guilty verdicts.

“Count one, acts of terrorism, a violation of article three common to the Geneva conventions, and of additional protocol to, pursuant to article 3D of the statute. Count two, murder. A crime against humanity, pursuant of article 2A of the statute. Count three, violence to life, health and physical or mental well being of persons, in particular, murder. A violation of article 3 common to the Geneva conventions.”

Taylor was found guilty of training, financing and helping Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels.

The rebels entered Sierra Leone from Liberia in 1991 and waged a terror campaign in the civil war that claimed an estimated 120-thousand lives over a decade.

Prosecutors alleged that the rebels paid Taylor for his support with illegally mined, so-called blood diamonds.

Taylor was indicted in 2003, before he was arrested in Nigeria in 2006.

During the trial, he pleaded not guilty, denying all the allegations.

“I, Charles Ghankay Taylor, never, ever, at any time, knowingly assist Foday Sankoh (leader of Sierra Leone rebel militia) in the invasion of Sierra Leone.”

The trial began in 2007 and saw some 94 witnesses take the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence before wrapping up in March 2011.

British model Naomi Campbell was one witness.

She told the court she received a gift of diamonds from Taylor at a charity dinner hosted by then South African President Nelson Mandela in 1997.

“I had a knock on my door and I opened my door and two men were there and gave me a pouch and said ‘a gift for you’.”

While the court convicted Taylor of aiding and abetting atrocities by rebels, they cleared him of direct command responsibility.

The special court of Sierra Leone had already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years following trials in Freetown.

The year also saw Senegal and the African Union sign an agreement to create a special tribunal toof Sudan’) try former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Mr Habre has been living in Senegal since fleeing his country in 1990 after being ousted.

The special tribunal will be set up in Dakar to judge him for war crimes 22 years after he left power.

A 1992 truth commission report in Chad said that during his time in power, he presided over up to 40-thousand political murders and widespread torture.

Rights groups called on the Senegalese government to act swiftly in trying the former Chad president.

Spokesman of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights Alioune Tine says the people of Chad are a step closer to getting justice.

“It’s very good information (news) for all the victims of Hissene Habre. There is hope. What we want now is to begin the trial very quickly. To build these mechanisms very very quickly because there is a long time that victims have been waiting for this Hissene Habre trial.”

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, former congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga was sentenced by the International Criminal Court to 14 years in prison for enlisting child soldiers in his rebel army.

The 51-year-old was convicted of recruiting children for his rebel group, the Union of Congolese Patriots, during fighting in 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lubanga also made history by being the first person to be convicted by the ICC since it was launched a decade ago.

Presiding judge Adrian Fulford delivered the verdict.

“The chamber reached its decision unanimously. The chamber concludes, that the prosecution has proved beyond doubt that Mr Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into the FPLC (militia group) and using them to participate in hostilities from early September 2002 to the 13th of August 2003.”

Nick Grono is from the non-profit organisation, the International Crisis Group, which researches conflicts.

He said Lubanga was convicted on several charges.

“Lubanga was a militia leader in the eastern Congo in the very nasty war that was going on there through and including the early 2000s and he was accused of three war crimes of recruiting, conscripting and using child soldiers and the court found that he committed those crimes, used child soldiers, and including using them as his bodyguards and these are the kind of crimes that we see in other conflicts in Africa, in particular the Lord’s resistance Army and Joseph Kony for instance and other conflicts that are ongoing elsewhere in Africa.”

Lubanga had pleaded not guilty, saying he was only a politician and was not involved in violence.

A United Nations report in October accused Rwanda’s defense minister of commanding a rebellion in eastern DRC that is being armed by Rwanda and Uganda.

The confidential report, leaked to Reuters news agency, said the minister also sent troops to aid the insurgency in a deadly attack on UN peacekeepers.

The UN Security Council’s Group of Experts say Rwanda and Uganda, despite their denials, continue to support M-23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops.

M-23 is a group of army mutineers made up of Tutsi ex-rebels from the Rwanda-backed National Congress for the Defence of the People.

It is headed by Bosco Ntaganda who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

They were integrated into the regular army in 2009 as part of a peace deal on March 23, 2009 for which they are named.

But they mutinied in April, demanding better pay and a full implementation of the March 23rd peace deal.

The UN said M-23 has expanded territory under its control, stepped up recruitment of child soldiers and summarily executed prisoners.

Speaking to the BBC, Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Okello-Oryem dismissed the report as rubbish.

“I can only say that this is mischief by those who do not intend for success in the progress being made. But we’re not going to accept our name of the government of Uganda, the people of Uganda to be tarnished in an unjustified and unproven ground.”

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame also told the BBC his government was not involved in the conflict.

“The main problem in this situation is a mix of ignorance an arrogance, people not listening. it’s just that, we don’t know what they’re about or what they want. We are not even involved at all and it wouldn’t make sense because for us our relationship with the Congo before this thing happened was actually very good and we were working together to eliminate the problem that has existed between the two countries.”

But perhaps the most prominent of Africa’s accused war criminals this year was Joseph Kony.

He became the focus of an internet campaign by a United States Charitable group to bring him to justice.

The indicted war criminal is head of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, which is known for atrocities including war crimes, abducting children to act as soldiers, sexual slavery and rape.

The ‘KONY2012’ campaign was launched, Invisible Children, with a 30-minute video which has been viewed by more than 100 million people since it was posted online.

This is an extract from the clip:

“For 26 years, Kony has been kidnapping children into his rebel group the LRA. Turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers. He makes them mutilate people’s faces and he forces them to kill their own parents. And this is not just a few children, it’s been over 30-thousand of them.”

Despite the viral internet campaign to stop Joseph Kony, the accused warlord has yet to be captured.

Meanwhile, the first woman and African to head International Criminal Court was also appointed this year.

Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda vowed to work for justice for Africans.

She said her list of priorities as chief prosecutor include the arrest of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and the trial of Ivory Coast’s ousted leader Laurent Gbagbo who is waiting the commencement of his trial in the Hague.



Thai police fire tear gas at protesters

Thousands of police have been deployed for the rally, organised by the royalist group Pitak Siam, which wants Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government to step down.


The authorities expect tens of thousands of people to attend the demonstration, the first major street protest against Yingluck’s 16-month-old administration.

Police estimated that about 10,000 protesters were gathered by about 9:00 am at the Royal Plaza in the city’s historic district.

“In the name of Pitak Siam and its allies I promise that we will topple this government,” the movement’s head, retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit, told demonstrators from the rally stage.

Police fired 10 tear gas canisters at a group of protesters who removed barbed wire and barriers blocking their route in front of a UN building close to the main rally site, police said.

“Tear gas was used in one area because protesters did not comply with the rules,” said national police spokesman Major General Piya Uthayo.

Three people, including one police officer, were taken to hospital because of the effects of the tear gas, while several others received first aid at the site, according to the city’s Erawan emergency centre.

The authorities said they would allow the rally to go ahead at the Royal Plaza so long as protesters gathered peacefully.

Yingluck on Thursday voiced fears the protesters aimed to use violence and to “overthrow an elected government and democratic rule”, in a televised address to the nation.

The government has invoked a special security law, the Internal Security Act (ISA), in three districts of the capital to cope with possible unrest.

“We will evaluate the situation daily and if it escalates we are ready to invoke emergency rule, but so far I think the ISA will be sufficient,” Thai police chief General Adul Sangsingkaew said on national television.

Politically turbulent Thailand has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent rival street protests in recent years, although an uneasy calm has returned after national elections in 2011.

Two months of mass opposition protests in 2010 by “Red Shirt” supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra sparked a deadly military crackdown that left about 90 people dead and nearly 1,900 wounded.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck is now prime minister after his political allies won a landslide election victory last year.

Thaksin, who made billions as a telecoms tycoon, is adored by many poor Thais for his populist policies while in power, but reviled by many in elite, military and palace circles who see him as authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.

“This government ignores widespread disrespect of the monarchy and even supports the perpetrators. It is a puppet of Thaksin,” Pitak Siam spokesman Vachara Riddhagni told AFP ahead of the demo.

Observers say prosecutions for insulting the monarchy have surged since royalist generals toppled Thaksin in a coup in 2006. Many of those targeted are linked to the Red Shirt movement.

Life goes on in Gaza City

It’s approaching a week since an unexpected but welcome ceasefire halted air strikes on Gaza, and rockets falling on Israel.


SBS correspondent Luke Waters and cameraman Jeff Kehl visited Gaza to see how Palestinians have been affected by eight days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

A ward in Gaza City’s main hospital is littered with semi-conscious bombing victims, and in some ways they are the lucky ones with at least a chance to recover. Unspeakable injuries and maiming have been the norm in Gaza for a fortnight.


Dr Iman Chbnni says brain injuries have been very common during the fighting.

Of all the suffering Dr Iman Chbnni has seen recently, images recorded on his phone move him deeply. One shows an 11-month old boy with burns to his entire body drawing his final breath, another shows a five-year-old girl with brain haemorrhaging.

It was a near miss for shopkeepers whose businesses are across the road from a Palestinian Ministry building which was levelled in an early assault. Amazingly, no-one was killed in the attack.

Salah Aljolo was 20 metres away when the bombs hit. He says he heard aeroplanes, explosions and then struggled to breathe as smoke engulfed the shopping precinct.

But in Gaza City, life goes on.

“In spite of all this bombing, we say we are victorious. Why? Because we are still in our land,” says Gaza City resident Soheil Mohommad Shanti. “We didn’t leave – no force can get us to leave now!”

Many Gazans say they are focused on the future and they hope sustained peace will one day prevail.