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When will the conclave start?

February 12, 2013

Added: List of Current Eligible Papal Electors

Added: VIS confirms today (14 feb) that the conclave will not start until March 15, at the earliest. This is how I read UDG (below); it seems the pope does not wish to derogate from it. Also, Fr. Lombardi notes that the “period” sede vacante begins March 1. This is correct, even though the Apostolic See is canonically vacant as of 8 PM the night before, for the “period” of a situation does not begin until the first full day thereof. Oddity of canonical computation of time (c. 203), that.

It will be interesting to see whether Benedict XVI, who remains fully pope until Feb 28, modifies John Paul II’s ap. con. Universi Dominici Gregis (1996) by which special laws are laid down for the conclave that elects the pope.

In particular, one wonders whether the timing of the conclave will be moved up from what is set out in UDG 37, namely, “from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant [i.e., Feb 28], the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent; the College of Cardinals is also granted the faculty to defer, for serious reasons, the beginning of the election for a few days more. But when a maximum of twenty days have elapsed from the beginning of the vacancy of the See, all the Cardinal electors present are obliged to proceed to the election.”* My emphasis.

It would appear from this that the conclave may not start until March 15, at the earliest, and must begin by the 20th [corr: 19th], at the latest. That seems a long time to wait, frankly—and the anticipated delay might yet occasion a papal derogation from UDG in this regard—but, absent such a clear directive, waiting would be far better than doing anything to cause doubt about something as momentous as a papal conclave.

*The language about waiting for those who are absent seems descriptive, not qualifying, in nature, unless one wants to start fretting about the obligation to wait for single “late” elector to arrive, or splitting hairs over who is “absent” versus who is “excused”, and so on. Personally, I don’t like obiter dicta in legislation, but Roman documents often contain such phrases.

Interesting: Paul VI died on 6 Aug, the conclave started on 25 Aug; John Paul I died on 28 Sep, the conclave started on 14 Oct; John Paul II died on 2 April, the conclave started on 18 April. All of these conclave start dates fall within the 15-20 day period commencing from the vacancy of the Apostolic See, irrespective of when the funerals were. Of course, one could observe that the vacancy of the see coincided with the ‘announcement’ of the vacancy, but the law speaks in terms of vacancy, and seems to have been followed in the cases I checked.

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