Thursday, February 21, 2013

Papal resignation and conclave - 4

Today's photos:


The cardinals elect the pope in the Sistine Chapel. Here's what the place looks like from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. It seems more a fortress than a chapel!


Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York would prefer a later rather than a sooner conclave.l


Papal resignation and conclave – 4


Notes about the conclave


Ordinarily it is at the death of a pope that a conclave is called to elect a new Supreme Pontiff. For the first time in about 600 years, the situation is radically different. The pope did not die. He is retiring. However, in the institution of the papacy, a retirement has the exact same effect as a death, namely, it creates a period called Sede Vacante.


What exactly does the term Sede Vacante mean? It is a Latin expression and it means, literally, the chair being vacant. The sede in this context is the chair (or seat, or see) of the bishop of Rome, the pope. So a Sede Vacante goes into effect at the moment of the death (or the pre-fixed moment of the retirement) of the bishop of Rome, the pope. For the first time in almost 600 years we know ahead of time the precise moment when the Sede Vacante will begin: Thursday, February 28, 2013. Therefore, on that day, at 8:00 p.m. when the papal resignation goes into effect, the result will be the same as if the pope has died, namely, he will no longer be pope. At that moment, all the attention will turn to the conclave and the election of a new pope.


And while we're at it, another much used term these days is the very word conclave.

Although it is an English word, it is derived directly from the Latin expression, cum clave, with a key. The term came into popular use after the death of Clement IV in 1268 in the town of Viterbo, not far from Rome. The cardinals (all 18 of them!) were unable to agree among themselves on any single candidate. Incredibly, this situation dragged on for three years. It was St. Bonaventure who suggested to the people of Viterbo that they put the cardinals under lock and key (cum clave), and cut their food and water supply a little bit every day until they elected a pope. But the citizens even went further that the suggestion of Bonaventure. The city government  removed the roof of the building where the cardinals were deliberating so that they would be exposed to the elements! This finally did the trick, and they speedily elected Gregory X in 1271, three years after the death of his predecessor.  Gregory began a series of reforms to the procedure of papal elections which have been altered and adapted over the centuries by many popes, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI.


Today, of course, it would be an enormous scandal if a conclave lasted even two weeks, much less three years! So our 117 electors will do in a matter of a few days what it took 18 electors three years to do in the thirteenth century. Different times!


So when will this conclave begin? The only thing for sure at this moment is that it cannot begin before February 28 at 8:00 p.m. The current regulation says that the conclave is to begin between 15 and 20 days after the start of the Sede Vacante. In our case that would be March 15-20. However, the reason for waiting over two week has always been to give all the cardinals who live in other parts of the world the possibility to get to Rome in time for the conclave. This was a necessary rule decades and centuries ago before air travel when American cardinals, for example, came to Rome by ship in a crossing of ten days or more. Several times cardinals arrived after the conclave had begun and therefore were not allowed to participate. Often a cardinal didn't get the word of the beginning of a Sede Vacante until days after the death of the pope.


Now, of course, we have instant world-wide communication, and we have air travel which will take hours instead of days, so there is no real need for the 15-20 day wait. Many cardinals are saying now that the conclave could begin much earlier, provided all the cardinal electors are present in Rome. Strictly speaking, it is necessary for a pope to make changes in the regulation, and until February 28 Benedict XVI is still pope. It has now been at least unofficially announced that Benedict will indeed intervene and issue a document which makes the necessary adjustments to that constitution to allow the conclave to begin before the required 15 day wait. First I was hearing March 10 as the early starting date of the conclave. Now they are even talking about March 8.


Not all the cardinals are in favor of an early start to the conclave. Among those pushing for the later period are two "heavyweights", Dolan of New York and Vingt Trois of Paris. They want more time to get to meet, know and evaluate all the other cardinals before going into a conclave. There's a lot of validity in that argument. After all, they're going into conclave to elect the pope, not the local dog catcher! In any case, most people are betting that Benedict will indeed issue a revision to the rule and that the conclave will start early, perhaps on one of those two dates: March 8 or March 10.



If you are wondering, as I am, about how many ballots it might take to elect the next pope, here are some statistics to help you. Here is a list which shows you how many ballots it took to elect the last eleven popes:


            1846              Pius IX                       4 ballots

            1878              Leo XIII                     3 ballots

            1903              Pius X                        7 ballots

            1914              Benedict XV         10 ballots

            1922              Pius XI                   14 ballots

            1939              Pius XII                      3 ballots

            1958              John XXIII             11 ballots

            1963              Paul VI                      6 ballots

            1978              John Paul I               4 ballots

            1978              John Paul II              8 ballots

            2005              Benedict XVI           4 ballots       


Well, there you have it. A little ancient history about the conclave as well as a little current history of the same topic. We'll soon begin talking about names. Who might be the next pope? Stay tuned!



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