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Catholic Dictionary

Find accurate definitions of over 5,000 Catholic terms and phrases (including abbreviations). Based on Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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The enclosure of the cardinals while electing a pope. To avoid interference from the outside, Pope Gregory X, in 1274, ordered the papal election to take place in conclave. Gregory's own election was preceded by a record vacancy of two years and nine months. On occasion (for example, Pope Leo XIII) popes have permitted the cardinals, by majority vote, to dispense with conclave in case of emergency. Pope Paul VI, in the apostolic constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo (October 1, 1975), introduced numerous changes in the laws governing the election of the Roman Pontiff. Thus: 1. only persons who have been named cardinals of the Church may be electors of the Pope; 2. the number of electors is now limited to 120, allowing each cardinal to bring two or three assistants to the conclave; 3. while the conclave is not strictly required for validity, it is the normal way a pope is elected, during what may be called a sacred retreat made in silence, seclusion and prayer; 4. three forms of election are allowed, i.e., by acclamation of all the electors, by compromise in which certain electors are given authority to act in the name of all, and by voting ballot; 5. if the newly elected person is a bishop, he becomes pope at once, but if he is not yet a bishop, he is to be ordained to the episcopacy immediately; 6. if no one is elected after three days, the conclave is to spend a day in prayer while allowing the electors freedom to converse among themselves; 7. secrecy is to be strictly observed under penalty of excommunication; 8. if an ecumenical council or synod of bishops is in progress, it is automatically suspended until authorized by the newly elected pontiff to proceed. (Etym. Latin con-, with + clavis, key: conclave, a room that can be locked up.)

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