Green Room

Pope Benedict XVI to make rule changes for conclave?

posted at 1:57 pm on February 20, 2013 by

Via Deacon Greg, Reuters reported earlier today that some rule changes may take place in the next few days that will answer questions about timing of the upcoming papal conclave.  The canon law on conclaves calls for a period (sede vacante, or “empty chair”) of no less than 15 days after the office of the Pope is empty.  That, however, assumes a vacancy because of death rather than retirement/resignation, and is in part to cover a funeral and mourning period and time for the cardinals to travel to Rome.

Benedict XVI will remain Pope until a week from tomorrow, and he may be preparing some changes to fit the extant circumstance:

Pope Benedict may change Church rules governing the conclave where cardinals from around the world will meet next month to secretly elect his successor, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

Benedict was studying the possibility of making changes to two laws established by his predecessor Pope John Paul before he abdicates on February 28, a spokesman said.

The changes may affect the timing of the start of the conclave.

With all of the lead time that Benedict XVI gave for a resignation rather than a death of the prelate, the need for a longer sede vacante has disappeared in this instance.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the time shortened to a week to ten days, or perhaps even sooner.  Stay tuned.

If you’re interested in how a conclave works, Deacon Greg links to this fun interactive graphic presentation that steps readers through the process.  Also, The Anchoress wonders whether the Cardinals will elect the first Pope Patrick in the Year of the Snake.  Faith and begorrah!

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What is the big deal with this? Just leave it at 15 days.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 2:55 PM

They want a new pope in place before Holy Week.

Illinidiva on February 20, 2013 at 3:18 PM

If the conclave begins on the 15th, and there is no reason it shouldn’t, that leaves them 8 days to elect before Holy Week starts. If they don’t think they will pick someone in 8 days it’s hardly more likely they will pick one in 15 days if a week is added. It does decrease dramatically the ability of non-voting cardinals, over 80, to have any effect on the electors.

If you ask me I think there is probably a voting bloc that thinks they have this locked up and don’t want more time to pass for fear the coalition will fall apart.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Makes sense. They know to the minute when the vacancy will occur in advance. Modern travel technology means the cardinals could be there within 48 hours at the latest. Why wait?

In the event of a future vacancy by the more traditional means, the old rules could be left in place. This is a special circumstance.

trigon on February 20, 2013 at 3:55 PM

Given that modern medicine allows people to live longer and cures so many diseases that previously would have been fatal, popes are going to live longer, probably into their 80s from here on out. Also, given that the Church has decided that the papacy now involves lots of air travel, the job is more physically demanding than it used to be.

This means that Benedict XVI may be the first pope in the modern era to resign, but he almost certainly won’t be the last. It would be good for the Church to get out in front of this in some way, and put forward official steps for different possibilities:

1) Pope dies (John Paul II)

2) Pope decides he can no longer physically perform the job and resigns (Benedict XVI)

3) Pope is not killed, but is rendered otherwise incapacitated by a stroke or some other event (Ariel Sharon — and yes, I’m aware Ariel Sharon was never a pope)

I don’t know what other eventualities there may be, but it would seem smart to be prepared for these three cases as a start.

JimLennon on February 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

This means that Benedict XVI may be the first pope in the modern era to resign, but he almost certainly won’t be the last.

I wouldn’t bet on that. None of this explains why a conclave should start 1 week after a papal vacancy instead of 2. It’s not like there are functions which only the Pope can perform, of which there are very few, that can’t wait a week.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 4:42 PM

None of this explains why a conclave should start 1 week after a papal vacancy instead of 2. It’s not like there are functions which only the Pope can perform, of which there are very few, that can’t wait a week.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 4:42 PM

True enough. I was just saying that it would be nice for the Church to put it in writing for the future, even if it is just to say “the chair remains vacant for no less than 15 days, regardless of whether the vacancy is due to death or resignation.”

JimLennon on February 20, 2013 at 4:49 PM

If the conclave begins on the 15th, and there is no reason it shouldn’t, that leaves them 8 days to elect before Holy Week starts.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Yeah, but that wouldn’t leave the new Pope much time to prepare for his Holy Week duties, especially the Urbi et Orbi.

steebo77 on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 PM

Cool graphics.

Ed — maybe you should just put a link to Deacon Greg’s blog on the side, since you quote him a lot. (We’re in the same parish –he’s as sweet in person as you would expect.)
JoAnn

JoAnn1965 on February 20, 2013 at 5:28 PM

True enough. I was just saying that it would be nice for the Church to put it in writing for the future, even if it is just to say “the chair remains vacant for no less than 15 days, regardless of whether the vacancy is due to death or resignation.”

JimLennon on February 20, 2013 at 4:49 PM

It already says that. It doesn’t matter the reason for the vacancy which is why they want to change it.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 5:35 PM

Yeah, but that wouldn’t leave the new Pope much time to prepare for his Holy Week duties, especially the Urbi et Orbi.

steebo77 on February 20, 2013 at 4:59 PM

These duties are scripted and unchanging. I am sure the Urbi et Orbi for Easter has mostly been written already. Regardless, if whoever is elected can’t come up with a blessing given a week then they probably chose the wrong person.

Rocks on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Thanks for the link on the conclave. Very interesting.

gophergirl on February 20, 2013 at 6:36 PM

There is no need to change this. The Church is not about the Pope. If we go without a Pope for one Holy Week, it is not going to hurt anything. Changing the rules at the last minute, in a hurry, is almost never a good idea.

Leave it at 15 days. If you want to come back and revisit it later when it’s not in the midst of a transition, fine. But don’t rush it through now.

Shump on February 20, 2013 at 6:36 PM

3) Pope is not killed, but is rendered otherwise incapacitated by a stroke or some other event (Ariel Sharon — and yes, I’m aware Ariel Sharon was never a pope)

I don’t know what other eventualities there may be, but it would seem smart to be prepared for these three cases as a start.

JimLennon on February 20, 2013 at 3:59 PM

At least they have a procedure for what to do if a pope dies or resigns. There’s nothing in the Code of Canon Law about what to do if the Pope becomes incapacitated by a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease or some other cause — there’s no procedure for him to be removed from office.

J.S.K. on February 20, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Question: Does Benedict get to vote in Conclave? I would think he goes back to being a regular Cardinal and thus gets to vote on his successor.

nobar on February 20, 2013 at 11:46 PM

Question: Does Benedict get to vote in Conclave? I would think he goes back to being a regular Cardinal and thus gets to vote on his successor.

nobar on February 20, 2013 at 11:46 PM

No. Only Cardinals who are under the age of 80 are permitted to vote. That was done back around the time of Vatican II when they didn’t want all the “old fogeys” standing in the way of the young progressives getting their pick for Pope. Pope Benedict is currently 85 and this ineligible.

As a cardinal, he could participate in the initial discussion and debate phase. However, he has already said, through his press people, that he will not get involved in the conclave in any way. Which is probably smart. Because if it ever became known who the current Pope’s choice is, that could have a serious — and unprecedented — impact.

Shump on February 21, 2013 at 8:13 AM