Tuesday 26 February 2013

"if all the Cardinal electors are present"

"Pope changes rules for papal election, allows for earlier conclave" - this story is repeated all over the place. And on the face of it he has.  But I'm not so sure.  I think the text has been poorly drafted and is open to interpretation.  Granted I'm relying on informal translations provided by Vatican Radio and the Vatican News Service Blog.

The amended section 37 of' "Universi Dominici Gregis" reads as follows:

 37. “I furthermore decree that, from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant, the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent before beginning the Conclave; however, the College of Cardinals is also granted the faculty to anticipated [sic] the beginning of the Conclave if all the Cardinal electors are present as well as 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.”

Well everyone is happily predicting that this means the conclave will commence around the 9th of March and it probably will.  But look at that phrase "if all the Cardinal electors are present".  How does one assess that all the Cardinal electors are present?  What is the definition of a Cardinal elector?  If  Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja of Indonesia and Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien are not present how do we know they aren't coming?  Is it enough that they've told a journalist they aren't coming?  Should they write to the Dean or camerlengo? What if a Cardinal is delayed?  How do we know he's not coming?  

The legal text should have been drafted a little more carefully for the avoidance of any doubt.


  1. I presume there already was a qualifying provision for those Cardinals with a justification for not attending. I understand there is a procedure whereby the "summons" can be revoked in a particular instance where the Cardinal has shown such justification.

  2. Cardinal electors, that is cardinals under 80 must, in obedience, turn up to vote, "unless they are hindered by sickness or by some other grave impediment, which however must be recognized as such by the College of Cardinals". But the point is they remain Cardinal electors, should their situation change they can come later and be admitted to vote. But for the calling of an early conclave ALL cardinal electors must be present. Edward Peters, the lawyer, touches on this http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/two-quick-thoughts-on-this-mornings-press-conference/