On Tuesday, I answered questions about the papal resignation. Today, I want to address the questions you might have about the upcoming papal election. As always, if you have any questions or comments, fire away in the comments below.
Q. Who Can Be Elected Pope?
Q. Who Elects the Pope?
|Josef Wagner-Höhenberg, A Meeting of the Cardinals (1864)|
A. Since 1059, only members of the College of Cardinals have been allowed to vote in papal elections. These days, there are two additional restrictions:
The right to elect the Roman Pontiff belongs exclusively to the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, with the exception of those who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day of the Roman Pontiff’s death or the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant. The maximum number of Cardinal electors must not exceed one hundred and twenty. The right of active election by any other ecclesiastical dignitary or the intervention of any lay power of whatsoever grade or order is absolutely excluded.
So only those Cardinals who are under age 80 at the time that the Holy See becomes vacant (which looks looks like it’ll be February 28, 2013). Those Cardinals over eighty may still “take part in the preparatory meetings of the Conclave,” but not in the Conclave itself.
This means, by the way, that the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (age 85), will not be attending the Conclave. Neither will the vice-dean, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray (age 90). The presiding Cardinal at the Conclave will instead by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (age 79), the most senior Cardinal-bishop.
Q. How Many Cardinals Are Eligible to Vote?
Of the 209 living Cardinals, only 117 will be voting in the Conclave. (most of the rest are too old). These 117 Cardinals are known as “Cardinal-electors.”
Q. What’s a Conclave?
The meeting of the Cardinal-electors to elect the next pope. The proceedings are highly confidential, and the Cardinal-electors are sequestered, meaning that they are prohibited from all contact with the outside world (including, of course, reading the newspaper, watching television, or listening to the radio). During this time, the Cardinal-electors will stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is said to be fairly simple, but the conditions for Cardinal-electors used to be much worse:
The Domus Sanctae Marthae (foreground)Prior to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis — promulgated on February 22, 1996 that changed the rules governing papal conclaves — participants were forced to sleep in the Apostolic Palace on rented cots, usually borrowed from seminaries in Rome. After participants were sealed under lock and key in the Apostolic Palace, the electors would live in makeshift rooms built throughout the palace, including within hallways and offices. The rooms, assigned to each Cardinal by lot, would often be constructed by nothing more than a sheet hanging on a rope. Sturdier walls would not be available because of the cost and because they would damage the Palace walls. In addition to the rented cots, each room would be equipped with a Crucifix and kneeler, a desk and one or two chairs. The Cardinals would have to share common bathrooms, often with ten Cardinals assigned to each. The situation would especially be difficult as a significant portion of Cardinals tend to be elderly.
Pope John Paul II, after himself participating in two Conclaves, decided to make the process more comfortable and less strenuous on the elderly Cardinals and commissioned the construction of Domus Sanctæ Marthæ.
Q. Where does these Rules Come From?
|Pope Gregory X|
After Visconti (see above) became Pope Gregory X, he promptly set out to reform the process of papal elections, creating the modern Conclave. That said, each pope can establish or modify the rules governing papal conclaves. John Paul II established the current system in 1996, in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis. There has been only one modification since then, related to the majority needed for voting (see the next question for details).
Q. How Large of a Majority is Required?
Two-thirds, rounding up if the number of Cardinal-electors isn’t divisible by three. In this case, there are 117 Cardinal-electors, meaning that the next pope will have been chosen by at least 79 of the Cardinal-electors.
[In 1996, John Paul II modified this general rule slightly: after 30 or 31 ballots, the Cardinal-electors could (by simple majority) change the majority required for the election, provided that it remained at least a simple majority. In 2007, Benedict XVI changed the rule back, the only change to the Conclave process since 1996.]
Q. When Will the Conclave Begin?
- Ensuring the destruction of Benedict’s “Fisherman’s Ring” (his official papal ring), and the lead seal that he uses for Apostolic Letters;
- Handling various administrative issues during the sede vacante (vacant See), like approving the expenses of running Vatican City;
- Preparing for the Conclave (assigning rooms, setting the schedule for voting, etc.);
- Selecting “two ecclesiastics known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority the task of presenting to the Cardinals two well-prepared meditations on the problems facing the Church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope.”
|Michelangelo, The Last Judgment (1541)|
- Election by compromise: the Cardinal-electors, if they wanted, could unanimously designate select a group of nine-to-fifteen Cardinals, who would then make the choice for the whole Conclave. This method of voting, which was how the deadlocked Cardinals finally selected Pope Gregory X, was last used in 1316, and is no longer permitted.
- Election by acclamation: the Cardinal-electors shouted out the name of their preferred candidate. This was last used in 1621, and is also no longer permitted.
- Election by scrutiny: the Cardinal-electors vote by secret ballot. This is the only permitted method presently, and has been the method used for centuries. These votes are then counted by three randomly-selected Cardinals (called “Scrutatorum,” or “Scrutineers”), while three others gather the ballots of any sick members (“Infirmarii”), and three others ensure that the Scrutineers are doing their jobs properly (“Recognitorum,” or “Revisers”).
|Newly-elected Pope Pius XI giving the Apostolic Blessing
Urbi et Orbi from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.
The Cardinal Dean, or the Cardinal who is first in order and seniority, in the name of the whole College of electors, then asks the consent of the one elected in the following words: Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff? And, as soon as he has received the consent, he asks him: By what name do you wish to be called? Then the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, acting as notary and having as witnesses two Masters of Ceremonies, who are to be summoned at that moment, draws up a document certifying acceptance by the new Pope and the name taken by him.