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The latest issue re the conclave

February 16, 2013

Added: “Pax et unitas ipsius Ecclesiae in grave discrimen facile adducerentur, si, Apostolica Sede vacante, in electione novi Pontificis quidquam fieri contingeret, quod eam incertam ac dubium reddere posset.” Bl. Pius IX, const. Cum Romanis Pontifibus (4 dec 1869), Gasparri’s Fontes III: 39-41, at 39.

This morning’s post was about what the pope might do in regard to the next conclave. Apparently, we now have to ask what the Curia might do in regard to the next conclave.

According to USA TODAY: Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Vatican rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that “this is a question that people are discussing. It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy” to move up the start of the conclave, he said.

I don’t see that, not at all.

There is nothing ambiguous about the two-week waiting period set out in UDG 37 and—long story made short—ambiguities in the law, not inconveniences, are what are subject to ‘interpretation’. Any other changes to the plain text of pontifical law of UDG can be made only by the pontifical Legislator. Sede vacante nihil innovetur. If Benedict leaves office without having taken action on UDG, and the date of the conclave is moved up (or back for that matter), for any reason outside of accommodating unforeseen impossibilities, it will be at odds with the normative text of UDG and would set a very dangerous example for future conclaves.

I agree that March 15 is far too long to wait to begin choosing a new pope. But the proper solution, in my view, is for the Legislator to derogate from UDG 37 by either (A) setting an earlier conclave start date or (B) expressly delegating the interregnal cardinalatial commission to fix an earlier date.

The legalities of papal conclaves are among the last things on earth that should be thrown into question.


UDG 1. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the College of Cardinals has no power or jurisdiction in matters which pertain to the Supreme Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office; such matters are to be reserved completely and exclusively to the future Pope. I therefore declare null and void any act of power or jurisdiction pertaining to the Roman Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office which the College of Cardinals might see fit to exercise, beyond the limits expressly permitted in this Constitution.

UDG 4. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Indeed, should anything be done or even attempted against this prescription, by my supreme authority I declare it null and void.

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