Pope changes rules for papal election, allows for earlier conclave
CWN - February 25, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI has amended the canon law governing a papal election, allowing the College of Cardinals to begin a conclave without the usual 15-day waiting period.
With a motu proprio signed on February 25, the Pope gave the College of Cardinals the authority to set an earlier date for the conclave “provided that all voting cardinals are present.” The rule, as amended, stipulates that the conclave must begin within 20 days after the Holy See becomes vacant, whether or not all electors are present.
Finally, the Pope underlines the right of every qualified cardinal-elector to participate in the conclave without external interference. "No Cardinal elector can be excluded from active or passive voice in the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for any reason or pretext," the motu proprio reads. That provision appears to be a response to the public circulation of petitions calling for Cardinals Roger Mahony and Godfried Danneels to be barred from the conclave because of their involvement in the sex-abuse scandal.
The motu proprio also extends and reinforces the rule of secrecy for the papal conclave. The rule against divulging the proceedings of the conclave is extended to the technicians who will sweep the Sistine Chapel to ensure that no recording devices are present. The new rules set the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication for anyone who violates the secrecy and discloses what occurred in the conclave.
The rules for a conclave, set forth by Blessed John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis, had required that at least 15 days lapse after the Holy See became vacant before the conclave could begin. That rule was based on the assumption that the vacancy would occur because of the death of a Pontiff, and the cardinal-electors would require some time to assemble in Rome. In the current case, Pope Benedict provided ample notice of the time when his resignation will take effect, and most (if not all) cardinal-electors have already made plans to be in Rome on that date.
The actual date for the opening of the conclave will be set by the College of Cardinals at a meeting on March 1: the first day of the sede vacante period.
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