Benedict XVI is to issue a document motu proprio allowing cardinals to start the election process before the fifteen day waiting period stipulated by Vatican law, if they wish to
ANDREA TORNIELLIvatican city, Vatican Insider
Benedict XVI’s final act as Pope will be to publish a brief motu proprio allowing cardinals to bring the date of the Conclave forward. This will be the second modification Ratzinger will be making to his predecessor’s Constitution Universi Dominici gregis.
In recent days, some of the cardinals said they wished to bring the date of the Conclave forward. The Constitution states the Conclave should take place between fifteen to twenty days after the papacy become vacant due to the death or resignation of a Pope: “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; 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,” Wojtyla’s Universi Dominici gregis reads.
The Pope here affirms the need to wait for “those who are absent” and if no one is, cardinals can in theory begin election proceedings. But if cardinals make a change to the Code of Canon Law while work is in progress, after the death or resignation of a Pope, this would constitute a dangerous precedent. This is why Benedict XVI has asked to modify a step in the Constitution, giving cardinals the right to bring the date of the election forward under certain conditions. The motu proprio will be promulgated by the current Pope, that is, by the supreme legislator”, so this will present no problems from a Canonical point of view or in terms of legitimacy.
Thanks to this pontifical intervention in extremis, Cardinals will be able to decide during the general congregation that will meet once the sede vacante period begins, whether to bring the Conclave forward. How many cardinals’ votes will be needed in order to make this happen? An absolute majority vote that is a 50% consensus. If there is a tie, Canonic Law states that the worth of the presiding cardinal’s vote is doubled and will be determining.
In recent days, two influential cardinals, the Archbishop of Paris André Vingt-Trois and the Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan said they were against bringing the election forward. They believe cardinals need more time to talk things through and discuss the future of the Church. Other colleagues of theirs are of a different mind, cardinals will discuss, vote and decide. The Conclave could be brought forward by a day or two thanks to an intervention by Benedict XVI, only if the majority of cardinals present in the congregations agree.
Ratzinger had already intervened in previous years to modify Wojtyla’s Constitution on the Conclave. The possibility of a Pope being elected by an absolute 50% majority plus 1 vote (instead of by the traditional two thirds majority) in cases where a deadlock prevails in the Conclave for a number of days, was eliminated after historian Walter Brandmüller – who was later created cardinal – prepared a note on the subject. With this correction, Benedict XVI intended to reaffirm the need for a big consensus in order for a Pope to be elected.