The Next Conclve — Implications Of The You Have To Be Under 80 Rule

by Anura Guruge

RELATED ARTICLE < please refer >

The recent fallacy in the London Times (Online) that the 82-year old Cardinal Sodano,  the Dean of the College of Cardinals, will be at the next conclave highlighted that conclave protocol is a mystery to most. I addressed the errors in the Times statement in this May 10 post.

Cardinal Sodano, despite being the Dean, will not be able to attend the conclave because he is over 80 and therefore automatically and inexorably excluded from being a papal elector (and thus being able to participate in a conclave).

Nothing, whether it be title, office or seniority, takes precedence over the 80 year cut-off rule for papal electors implemented by Paul VI (#263) in 1970 with his Ingravescentem aetatem motu proprio.

Thus, if the Dean of the College of Cardinals has reached his eightieth birthday prior to the start of the sede vacante he will not be permitted to participate in the sequestered conclave. There are no ifs and buts. A Dean who is over 80 cannot participate in a conclave. PERIOD.

As I point out in my earlier posting this happened in both the 1978 conclaves — the first to be held since the 80 year cut-off came into play.

The same applies to the Vice-Dean. He can only attend if he is under 80. In 1978, the Vice-Dean, again on both occasions could not attend.

[In 1965 Paul VI had also changed the mechanism as to who would be the Dean and Vice-Dean. Previously it had been based on seniority within the College, the Senior most automatically becoming Dean or Vice-Dean when these posts became vacant. As of 1965 the Cardinal Bishops would elect one from within their ranks, independent of seniority — albeit subject to the pope approving the selection.]

Not having the Dean or the Vice-Dean in attendance at a conclave is not even an inconvenience, let alone an impediment.

If the Dean is not present, the Vice-Dean will deputize for him. If they are both not present, the senior most Cardinal Bishop will act as the surrogate for the Dean. Please refer my earlier posting for the list of functions performed by the Dean (or his deputy).

[In theory it is possible to envisage a conclave with no Cardinal Bishops in attendance, due to age and illness — given that there can only be 9 Cardinal Bishops per the current framework. If that were to happen the senior most Cardinal Priest will become the de facto Dean. This is the beauty of precedence within the College. Again Please refer my earlier posting so I do not have to repeat myself here. Better still, read page 125 to 127 of ‘The Next Pope‘ on Google Books or Amazon.]

The senior most cardinal deacon is a busy beaver during the conclave. He has to pick names, he has to man the door, he has to summon non-cardinals, he has to make the Habemus Papam announcement etc.

But as with the Dean and Vice-Dean, if the senior most cardinal deacon of the College is unable to attend the conclave, then the senior most cardinal deacon present automatically performs all the duties without comment.

If a new pope has not been elected after the fourth day of the conclave, there is per Universi Dominici Gregis ‘time-out’ stipulations a brief hiatus followed by a spiritual exhortation by the senior most cardinal priest present. And that basically is the MO when it comes to conclave protocol. Precedence, precedence, precedence with the senior most present doing the honors — with BUT one, unique, exception. That being the Camerlengo. If the existing Camerlengo cannot attend the conclave (or becomes incapacitated during the conclave), the College of Cardinals will have to elect a new one prior to (or during) the conclave via a secret ballot — with the person getting the most votes, irrespective of majority, becoming the new Camerlengo. The Dean (or his deputy) will stand-in for the Camerlengo while the new one is being elected.

Another two posting to follow.


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