25 February 2013

Shaping Up Conclave 2013

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication from the Chair of St. Peter as of February 28, 2013 at 8 p.m. Rome time, attention started to turn to the College of Cardinals Conclave which would choose the next Vicar of Christ.  While Canon 332 paragraph 2 allows for Roman Pontiff to resign of his free will, this provision of Canon Law had not been exercised in six centuries.  This brought some question in the procedures of succession.

Sede vacante coat of arms

Ordinarily, the papacy becomes sede vacante on the death of the Pope.  It is de rigueur after Pope’s death for the Church to observe a period of mourning and to allow Cardinals from around the world to gather for their duty to act as electors of the next Roman Pontiff.  In the first part of the Twentieth Century, the College of Cardinals acted expeditiously by starting the Conclave ten days after the Pope’s death.

Ten days of sede vacante before a Conclave may have  worked well when there were a three score of Papal Electors and when they were almost exclusively European (N.B. half of the Cardinals were  Italian). But such a speedy conclave was a de facto exclusion of Cardinals who were not in Europe.  This practice  did not take into account that the Catholic Church is world-wide and began to have electors scattered throughout the world.

The only reason that Baltimore Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons was able to participate in the 1903 Conclave which elected Pope Pius X  was that Gibbons was in Rome during the sede vacante.  A Brazilian Cardinal did participate in the 1914 Conclave which elected Pope Benedict XV, but several American electors were locked out (after all Conclave has its etymological origins in meaning with key) due to ship transports not making it to Rome in ten days.

When two American and a Canadian Cardinals were locked out of the 1922 Conclave which elected Pope Pius XI due to slow transportation, the new pontiff quickly issued the motu proprio Cum proxime which permitted Conclaves to be delayed for another five to eight days to accommodate non-European electors.  According to the 1996 Constitution Universi Dominidi gregis under Pope John Paul II, norms for the papal election were set to allow at least 15 days but no more than 20 day of sede vacante.   But there is a strong case to be made for amending that norm in the case of a planned resignation.

Pope Benedict XVI gave 17 days notice of his intentions, which allowed Cardinals from around the world plenty of time to make their way to Rome.  In fact, a consistory (gathering of Cardinals) will be held on February 28th as a farewell to Benedict XVI which most of the Cardinals are expected to attend.

Recognizing these circumstances, Pope Benedict XVI has issued motu prorpio Normas nunnullas.  This motu proprio empowers the College of Cardinals to hold an earlier Conclave if all of the electors are present and if a majority of the electors agree.  This document does not mandate an early start date but merely empowers the Cardinals if they so choose to do so.

Per Vatican spokesman Rev. Frederico Lombardi, S.J, the date for the Conclave will probably not be decided until March 2nd to March 4th.   If the Conclave started prior to March 15th, electors would have time to deliberate and discern who should be the next Supreme Pontiff and still have time to return to their diocese for Holy Week.  Accelerating the Papal Election timetable is not a sure thing. New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been outspoken for allowing time for the Cardinals to meet informally prior to the Conclave, thus he is not in favor of accelerating the timetable.

While no one knows at this time when the Conclave will convene, the participants are becoming clearer.  Currently, the College of Cardinals is capped at 120 electors.  Canon Law cuts off eligibility upon a Cardinal’s 80th birthday, except if that age is reached during the sede vacante.  When the sede vacante period starts, there will be 117 eligible electors.  Alas for Ukrainian Major Archbishop Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, as he  reaches his 80th birthday February 26th.  But curial German Archbishop Walter Cardinal Kasper celebrates his birthday on March 5th, and Turin’s Archbishop emeritus Severino Cardinal Polletto’s birthday is March 18th, so they both will remain eligible for the Conclave.  The Bishop emeritus of Rome, Josef Cardinal Ratizinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) is over 80 so he is ineligible to vote, but Cardinal Ratzinger will fly off to Castel Gandalfo during hold up at the Papal Retreat during the Conclave, so he will not actively influence the pre-Conclave consisteries.

There are two notable scratches from the Conclave’s roster.  Indonesian Archbishop Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja, the 78 year old Archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, has announced that he does not plan to participate in the Conclave due to ill health.  Cardinal Darmaatmadja will be permitted to join the Conclave if his ill health resolves.  Scottish Archbishop Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the Archbishop of Edinburgh has just resigned his office amidst accusations of  a sex scandal involving “inappropriate acts” with fellow priests.   O’Brien’s abdication makes him ineligible as a Cardinal-elector for Conclave 2013 and leaves the United Kingdom unrepresentated amongst the voting Conclave.   As it stands, there will only be 115 Cardinal casting ballots.

It should be noted that another important change to the Papal Election during Pope Benedict XVI’s reign is on the required majorities for elections for the Apostolic See.  In Pope John Paul II’s Constitution Universi Dominidi gregis, the initial threshold for electing a Pope was achieving 2/3rds of the Conclaves votes.  However, if a Conclave was deadlocked after ten days of voting, the election threshold was lowered to a simple majority.  

There was speculation by Canon Law  scholars that a prolonged Conclave might inspire some electors to hold out for the change in thresholds to choose a candidate who otherwise would not gain the approval of the 2/3rds majority.  In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio  De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis which reimposed the super-majority 2/3rds votes plus one throughout the Conclave.

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