Papal conclave electors and other information
UDG 84. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, and above all during the time of the election of the Successor of Peter, the Church is united in a very special way with her Pastors and particularly with the Cardinal electors of the Supreme Pontiff, and she asks God to grant her a new Pope as a gift of his goodness and providence. Indeed, following the example of the first Christian community spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 1:14), the universal Church, spiritually united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, should persevere with one heart in prayer; thus the election of the new Pope will not be something unconnected with the People of God and concerning the College of electors alone, but will be in a certain sense an act of the whole Church. I therefore lay down that in all cities and other places, at least the more important ones, as soon as news is received of the vacancy of the Apostolic See . . . humble and persevering prayers are to be offered to the Lord (cf. Mt 21:22; Mk 11:24), that he may enlighten the electors and make them so like-minded in their task that a speedy, harmonious and fruitful election may take place, as the salvation of souls and the good of the whole People of God demand (my emphasis).
Five quick points:
1. The assumption seemed to be that papal resignations (c. 332 § 2) would be effective immediately. Benedict XVI has shown us that’s not necessarily the case; his does not take effect till 2 PM Eastern, Thursday, FEB 28.
2. The pope could change his mind (c. 331), though it is unthinkable that he would. He remains fully pope until the effective date of his resignation.
3. As of the effective time of his resignation the pope will enjoy the same status in the Church as would any retired cardinal over age 80 (he will not vote in the conclave to elect his successor); he will hold no office in the Church.
4. If a pope dies before his resignation takes effect, the normal regulations for a conclave in the wake of a pope’s death would apply.
5. When the Apostolic See goes vacant, 117 electors will be eligible to vote, per UDG Introduction. The opening date of the conclave is irrelevant for that issue (pace a VIS statement today implying otherwise).
The pope’s announcement:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI