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.