When Exactly Does a Cardinal Turn 80?

The crux here being that a cardinal loses his right to vote in a papal election once they have turned 80.

In terms of eligibility the cardinals lost 15 to 20 days of eligibility in 1996, though interestingly I have yet to come across any references to cardinals taking public umbrage to this latest restriction.

Recently I read the last two Apostolic constitutions that pertain to papal elections, viz. Pope Paul VI‘s Romano Pontifici Eligendo of October 1, 1975 and John Paul II‘s update to this which was Universi Dominici Gregis of February 22, 1996.

In Paul VI’s 1975 constitution, ‘section’ 33 states: “… exclusive of those who, …., at the moment of entry into the conclave, have already completed their eightieth year. …”

John Paul II’s 1996 constitution, again in ‘section’ 33 states: “…. with the exception of those who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day of the Roman Pontiff’s death or the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant. …”

Since John Paul II also specified that the electoral conclave should ideally start on the 15th day after the sede vacante and no later than 20 days after, the latest rules are more exclusive than those promulgated by Paul VI.

But what I found curious, even amusing, was the total lack of specificity as to how one determines a cardinals exact age at the time of the sede vacante. For a start there is no mention of whether the sede vacante is marked per Vatican/Rome time, or in the event of a papal death during an official trip abroad per local time. As an hypothetical lets say that the pope passes away at 11:30pm on July 31 in San Francisco. With a 9 hour time difference relative to Rome it would already be August 1 at the Vatican.

So what happens to a cardinal that turns 80 on August 1?

Is he eligible or isn’t he?

In reality this issue is independent of location. Even if the sede vacante happens while the pope was in Rome you can still have date difference depending how far East or West the cardinal in question is located.

But this begs the question as to when ones birthday begins.

I guess I am more attune to the vagaries of when one celebrates one’s birthday than most because I was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which is 10.5 hours ahead in terms of time to where I currently live on the U.S. East Coast. So my birthday starts in Ceylon, where I was born, 10.5 hours AHEAD of when it starts where I live.

I don’t have to belabor this anymore. You must get the drift.

Think about a cardinal born in New Zealand who is now a long-term resident in Hawaii on official Vatican business. So if this cardinal is now 79 years old, when does he turn 80?

12AM New Zealand time? 12AM Hawaii time or 12AM Rome time?

Obviously this is not a show stopper. If this issue ever comes up it will be handled by either a Particular Congregation or the General Congregation of the College of Cardinals, meeting during the sede vacante per the constitutions. So it won’t be a big deal.

What is interesting is the lack of specificity on this issue. I had read that Paul VI was a stickler for detail and when it came to Romano Pontifici Eligendo left nothing to chance. Well it would appear that he did. But that is OK. It gave me something to kick around.

Thank you.

Anura Guruge


Master List of the ‘College of Cardinals’

This is just a heads-up in case any of you plan to look at (or have recently looked at) the composition of the ‘College of Cardinals’ in preparation for the next conclave — whenever that might be.

Just be careful which list you look at — and check when it was last updated.

The composition of the College is somewhat dynamic. So far this year five (5) cardinals have passed away, viz. Peter Poreku Dery (March 6), Adolfo Antonio Suarez Rivera (March 22), Ernesto Corripio Ahumada (April 10), Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (April 21), and Bernardin Gantin (May13).

As of today, July 22, 2008, having counted them in multiple ways using an Excel spreadsheet just to make sure, there are a total of 194 cardinals with 116 under the age of 80 (and thus eligible to vote).

The Vatican list(s) pertaining to the College appears to have been last updated on May 14 — the day after Bernardin Gantin death. Please see the screen shot I took today.

Problem here is that time moves on — inexorably.

In June two cardinals, viz. Biffi and Shirayanagi, reached their 80th birthday. So they can no longer vote at the next conclave.

But this is not reflected in the “May 14” list. Thus the Vatican says that there are 118 eligible electors at present.

Ooops! Wrong!

Interestingly the Wikipedia entry for the ‘College of Cardinals’ has it right.

That is good. As I state in my book on Papal Names, I am a great fan of Wikipedia. I believe that Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the primary, ‘first-look’ reference used by those that spend a lot of time in front of a computer.

But to be fair, I always hand-check Wikipedia lists before I start to use them.

I hand-checked the Wikipedia ‘College of Cardinals’ list today.

If you do a Google on ‘College of Cardinals,’ the Vatican and Wikipedia come after that of a Catholic Web site. They do have a nice list. That is the list I started with. But that appears NOT to have been updated this year! The five cardinals that died in 2008 are still on that list. That list says ‘199’ total, ‘117’ electors. Wrong!

So be aware if you start looking at these lists.

I will do my best, but with no promises, to make a post HERE whenever the composition of the College changes. We may be due for another Consistory. I will do my best to keep you posted.


Anura Guruge

The Next Pope — After Pope Benedict XVI

The Next Pope Book by Anura Guruge
The Next Pope

[March 2009: Please visit this page for my latest work on “The Next Pope After Pope Benedict XVI“.]

Wagering on papal elections is an age-old and somewhat beloved tradition originated by the Romans prior to the midway point of the 1st millennium. Since then huge amounts of money have changed hands on the outcome of papal elections and of late, the new assumed name chosen by the pope elect.

Paddy Power, Ireland’s premier bookmaker, has taken the art and sport of betting on papal elections to new heights.

As I discuss on page 5 of my ‘Pope Names‘ book, Paddy Power displayed uncanny prescience when it came to the April 18, 2005 conclave to elect the successor to the long-lived, iconic Pope John Paul II. They had the name ‘Benedict’ as their top pick at 3:1, and had Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who did become Pope Benedict XVI, as their second favorite papabile at 9:2. Getting both the name that would be assumed and the right cardinal, that close, was pretty impressive.

I am currently reading Father Andrew M. Greeley’s “The Making of the Popes 1978,” which deals with the two papal elections that took place, in quick succession, during the second half of 1978 following the death of Pope Paul VI. On page 113 he talks about the odds being offered in London (and I assume that he might be talking about Ladbrokes) prior to the first election in August. The smiling, truly charismatic Albino Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice, who would glorify the papacy for a fleeting 33 days as Pope John Paul I isn’t mentioned in the list of papabile that had been assigned odds.

Paddy Power is now taking bets on the next pope.

Right now they have another Venetian Cardinal Angelo Scola as the 6-1 favorite.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, from Nigeria, who in 2005 was the Paddy Power’s top pick (at 3:1), just ahead of Cardinal Ratzinger, is also on the list. He is, however, now the 5th pick at 10:1.

Angelo Scola is the only Italian in Paddy Power’s top 5.

It is now 30 years since there has been an Italian pope. That seems long but is by no means a record. During the Avignon period in the early 14th century there were seven French-born popes, starting with Clement V (1305-1314) and ending with Gregory XI (1370-1378), whose reigns in total lasted just under 74 years. But there had been a one year interregnum prior to Clement V’s election. So in reality there had been a 75 year period without an Italian pope.

Betting on the next pope, when the current pope is in good fettle would appear to some as ghoulish or irreverent. But to be fair this is a ‘sport’ nearly as old as the papacy. It is just that with the Internet, it is slightly more ‘in your face’ than it probably was even in 1978.

Benedict XVI was elected three days after his 78th birthday. That made him the 5th oldest to have been elected in the last 500 years. [The dates prior to that are not reliable enough provide accurate statistics.] Now, in 2008, at 81, he does not make the ‘top 10’ as one of the oldest popes in the last 500 years — the oldest during this period having been Leo XIII who was 93 years old when he died, after 25 years as pope, in July 1903.

Both Benedict XVI and John XXIII quipped about the potential brevity of their papacies when explaining their choice of name. Jon XXIII mentioned, rightly, that most of the previous popes named ‘John’ had had short pontificates. It is indeed true that the 21 popes named ‘John’ had papacies that were below the ~7 year average for all the popes.

Benedict XVI noted that Benedict XV had but served briefly — for 7 years and 4 months. The 17 popes named ‘Benedict’ also come in below the ~7 year average — even below that of ‘Johns.’ If you are interested in the exact statistics you can find those on page 81 of my ‘Pope Names‘ book.

Hope this helped. Thank you for your time.

Anura Guruge

Where ‘Papam’ Comes From

Once a papal conclave has elected a new pope, and the pope elect has agreed to be pope and specified the papal name he wishes to be known by, the senior Cardinal Deacon (of the College of Cardinals) steps onto the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica (at the Vatican) and makes the following proclamation in Latin:
“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:
Habemus Papam!”

Which, in English, means: “I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope!”

So that is the best known, and most germane, use of the term ‘papam.’ Since this is going to be a BLOG and Web site devoted to all aspects of papal elections, past and future, I thought ‘papam,’ from “Habemus Papam,” was an appropriate name for this venture.

Here is an article by Dana Stevens, from Slate, at the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s election on April 19, 2005, that explains the Latin ‘mechanics’ of the term.

Written by Anura Guruge

A Web site by papal historian Anura Guruge on Papal Elections

%d bloggers like this: