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Preparing for the next conclave

March 17, 2013

The Catholic Church does not suffer from the “permanent election cycle” that marks the USA nor do I predict a short papacy, but the recent sede vacante and conclave exposed some weaknesses in the canon law governing such things and a few thoughts toward remedying those weaknesses seem in order.

First, to be clear, there are now 115 eligible papal electors; Darmaatmadja and O’Brien, are, however, very unlikely to attend a future conclave, leaving 113 voters as of this posting.

Second, Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II’s 1996 law by which papal interregna and conclaves are governed, suffers from several ambiguities, we see now, and was twice subjected to revision by Benedict XVI, such that the law is now frayed. UDG should be completely re-written.

Third, Canon 332 § 2 (on papal resignation) obviously represents more than a theoretical possibility invocable only under virtually unimaginable circumstances. Scholars must take a serious look at Benedict’s invocation of that canon and assess several issues raised in its wake, including: what is proper terminology for such act, what is the precise canonical status of an ex-pope, what are the consequences of making resignations effective at some hour other than midnight, does a lengthy delay between a resignation announcement and its effective date cause unnecessary turmoil in the Church, and should such delay impact the timing of a subsequent conclave?

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