Pope may change conclave rules before leaving: Vatican

VATICAN CITY Wed Feb 20, 2013 1:20pm EST

1 of 2. The Vatican emblem is seen from inside the Vatican state February 20, 2013. Pope Benedict's shock resignation has robbed Italians of the one element of certainty in a time of deep doubt, with the country beset by graft scandals and heading for an election that will not bring the radical change so many crave.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict may change rules governing the conclave that will secretly elect his successor, a move that could move up the global meeting of cardinals who are already in touch about who could best lead Catholics through a period of crisis.

The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected and then formally installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.

The rule changes could mean that the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals will choose the next leader of the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church, might be able to start before March 15, which is currently the earliest it can begin.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Wednesday that Benedict, who will lose all power when he abdicates on February 28, was considering issuing a "Motu Proprio," a personal document which has the force of Church law and addresses a specific need.

A 1996 apostolic constitution by Pope John Paul stipulates that a conclave must start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant, meaning it cannot begin before March 15 under the current rules given Benedict's date to step down.

Some cardinals believe a conclave should start sooner than March 15 in order to reduce the time in which the Roman Catholic Church will be without a leader at a time of crisis.

Benedict's papacy was rocked by scandals over the sex abuse of children by priests in Europe and the United States, most of which preceded his time in office but came to light during it.

His reign also saw Muslim anger after he compared Islam to violence. Jews were upset over his rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier. During a scandal over the Church's business dealings, his butler was convicted of leaking his private papers.

Benedict and his predecessor made sure any man awarded a cardinal's red hat was firmly in line with key Catholic doctrine supporting priestly celibacy and Vatican authority and opposing abortion, women priests, gay marriage and other liberal reforms.

Cardinals worldwide have begun informal consultations by phone and email to build a profile of the man they think would be best suited to lead the Church through rough seas. Some 117 cardinals under age of 80 will be eligible for the conclave.


But some in the Church believe that an early conclave would give an unfair advantage to cardinals already in Rome and working in the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.

"A short period before a conclave helps the curial cardinals in Rome operating on their home turf," said Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of several books on the Vatican.

"The curial cardinals are the ones that cardinals from outside Rome turn to for opinions about the other cardinals. The longer the pre-conclave period, the more time non-curial cardinals have to talk to each other and to get to know each other. The longer the period prior to the conclave, the less dependent outside cardinals are on the curial cardinals."

There is speculation in the Vatican that, if the rules are amended, the conclave could start on March 10, lasting a few days, and the new pope could be installed on March 17, both Sundays. But much would depend on the length of the conclave.

During the conclave, cardinals live in a residence inside the Vatican and vote twice in the Sistine Chapel. They are not allowed to communicate in any way with the outside world, nor are they allowed to listen to radio, watch television, make phone calls or use the internet.

Benedict has hand-picked more than half the men who will elect his successor. The rest were chosen by the late Pope John Paul, a Pole with whom the German pope shared a determination to reassert a more orthodox Catholicism in the new millennium.

A number of cardinals have said they would be open to the possibility of a pope from the developing world, be it Latin America, Africa or Asia, as opposed to another from Europe, where the Church has lost credibility and is polarized.

"I can imagine taking a step towards a black pope, an African pope or a Latin American pope," Cardinal Kurt Koch, a Swiss Vatican official who will enter the conclave to choose the next pope, told Reuters in an interview last week.

Of the 117 electors, a slim majority of 61 are from Europe, compared to 58 in 2005. Italy, the largest national group, will have 28 this time, up from 20 at the last conclave in 2005.


Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Pope Benedict was considering making changes that would "harmonize" two documents approved by his predecessor.

One, the 1996 apostolic constitution called "Universi Dominici Gregis," governs the entire period while the papacy is vacant, known as the "Sede Vacante".

That constitution, which consists of an introduction and 92 articles, details everything about the running of the Church in the absence of a pope, including the preparatory meetings for the conclave, the start of the conclave, the oaths of secrecy and the election procedure.

The other main document, "Ordo Rituum Conclavis," or Rites of the Conclave, is a 350-page book in Latin and Italian that details the rituals, prayers and chants inside the secret conclave.

That book, which was last updated in 1998, includes the Mass in which the cardinals pray at the start of the conclave, the ritual of the election and even the precise Latin formula with which the new pope accepts his election and chooses his name.

It was not immediately clear how the two documents could be "harmonized" because one is a detailed, legalistic document and the other is more of a ceremonial handbook, similar to a missal.

(additional reporting by Tom Heneghan and Naomi O'Leary; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (9)
jmmatta wrote:
Sounds pretty fishy to me…

Feb 20, 2013 2:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DeanMJackson wrote:
The article reads, “Benedict has hand-picked more than half the men who will elect his successor. The rest were chosen by the late Pope John Paul, a Pole with whom the German pope shared a determination to reassert a more orthodox Catholicism in the new millennium.”

Where did Jesus condone his disciples sexually abusing children, then covering up the abuse so the crimes could expand geometrically? I don’t recall that anywhere in the Gospels. This simple fact should have informed everyone years ago (including me!) that Believers are not in control of the Vatican, for Believers would knowingly be consigning themselves to everlasting Hell by implementing such an evil policy. Only non-believers would adopt such a policy.

So who’s in control of the Vatican (assuming last week’s putsch was unsuccessful)? Only one entity would have the manpower, resources and not flinch from such an evil policy: Moscow, the Communists. Only they would be capable of pulling this off. And when did they do it? With the “election” of Pope John XXIII in 1958, which explains why by 1961 the Third Secret of Fatima was not released as Mary said it was to be. Again, Believers would never contradict someone they believe to be the Mother of God! Communists, however, would, since they think Jesus is akin to a fairy tale.

For those of you wondering, the “collapse” of the USSR was a strategic ruse, as will be the upcoming collapse of the Chinese Communist government.

Feb 20, 2013 5:37pm EST  --  Report as abuse
CatholicChild wrote:
This article is disturbing to faithful Catholics for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, deserves much more than Phillip P.’s lack of respect shown in this article. Perhaps Reuters can locate someone who can recognize absolute Truth, appreciate what is sacred, as well as write with more reverence toward the Holy Father.

One specific jab by Phillip was the “His reign also saw Muslim anger after he compared Islam to violence.” I happened to be reading about this from a different source which said, “…The ensuing firestorm was unfortunate, in part because few people read the whole lecture–which was not about Islam at all, but the RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN REASON AND FAITH.” The source continues, “…faith and reason desperately need one another…Pope Benedict argues, faith and reason belong together because reason presumes faith. How do scientists know that there’s an underlying logic to the universe? Whey do they assume that nature will work tomorrow the way it did yesterday?…In the end, they take all this on faith–a stance grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, whether today’s scientists acknowledge it or not…
On another level, much dysfunction in contemporary culture can be explained by attempts to separate reason and faith. Reason without faith becomes skepticism, cynicism, and ultimately nihilism, leading to despair…Faith without reason becomes fundmentalism, extremism, and sometimes violence. We see this today in radical currents within Islam, which justify terrorism and hatred in the name of God. Pope Benedict is well aware, however, that in a different key, the same temptation to irrationality courses through every religion, which makes it all the more important that faith and reason remain on speaking terms.” (direct quotes taken from John L. Allen, Jr.’s book)

Feb 20, 2013 6:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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