Monday, February 25, 2013

Partially Shaping Up Papal 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. 


 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.


 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.


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