SECOND UPDATE -- The Press Office of the Holy See is reporting that it is unlikely that the decision on when the Conclave will begin will be decided on Monday. Paragraph 13 of Universi domenici gregis indicates that the date for voting is set "[i]n one of the Congregations immediately following" the first General Congregation. I had assumed that the unusual decision to have an afternoon session on Monday meant that it would be taken up then, expressing the Cardinals' desire to finish the voting as soon as possible. Apparently, that will not be happening. This makes March 11 an increasingly likely start-date, if they choose to start early.
UPDATE -- As I predicted, the first General Congregation will not occur today, as many expected. Rather, the first meeting of all of the Cardinals will begin at 9:30am on Monday. Per the rules governing these, they will not set the date and time of the Conclave at this first meeting. Rather, they will do that at their second meeting. However, unlike in the past, their next meeting will not be the following day, but rather that afternoon. I think we can expect the date and time of the voting process in the Conclave to be set by Monday afternoon. Assuming they work through the "all Cardinals being present" issue, that probably means a start date for the Conclave around March 11, maybe as early as March 9.
John Allen has some good info at his blog. (Although, I think he has misread Universi domenici gregis regarding some of the timing of things.)
As of 8:00pm Rome Time, February 28, 2013, the See of Peter was made vacant. Now the process begins to determine a new Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church. The development of the procedure to choose a Pope is an interesting one, and often tracks the controversies in the Church, especially its struggles against the State. You can get a nice bullet summary from the EWTN website. The use of Cardinals alone as electors goes back at least to the 8th century, although the forerunners of the Cardinals (the clerics of the major churches of Rome), goes back to the earliest centuries of the Church in Rome.
The idea of a "conclave" is much later. A quick foray into linguistics helps here, bear with me. Latin, like modern Italian, has no verb for "to lock". So how do say something is locked in these languages? You say that it is closed with the key. In Latin the words "with the key" are "con clave", or as we render it in English, 'conclave'. When Pope Celestine V resigned from the See of Peter after only 6 months back in 1294, which was preceded by a period of sede vacante (i.e., no Pope) for two years, while the Cardinals wrangled over the procedures, they decided to try something radical. They would take the Cardinals and lock them in (close the doors con clave). By locking them in, they hoped to get them to decide faster. There were even rules that food and comforts were to be reduced the longer they were in there, until at one point they would be given only bread and water! Those extreme measures did not last long, but the Conclave has. Conclaves have been held in a number of places over the centuries, but eventually (and currently) the Sistine Chapel has become the location for the Conclave.
The current rules for the Conclave were re-codified by Bl. Pope John Paul II in 1996 in a document (an "Apostolic Constitution") called Universi domenici gregis. (Church documents are often titled by the first few words of the text in Latin. In this case it means "The Shepherd of the Lord's whole flock".) That document was amended twice, both by Pope Benedict XVI. The first one doesn't really matter anymore, because its changes were incorporated into the second. The second amendment, the Apostolic Letter Normas Nonnullas, came out days before Benedict XVI's resignation came into effect. I gave a description of it earlier on this blog.
So the rest of this entry, I mean to go through the current rules in place for the upcoming Conclave. In other words, what happens now that the See is Vacant?
The first thing that must be realized is that just about every Cardinal, and everyone who acts in the name of the Supreme Pontiff, loses his authority. The heads of all those various dicasteries act in the name of the Holy Father. Without him, they have no legal authority to act. There are some exceptions, especially regarding certain dispensations and confessional matter, but that's bit more than I want to get into. In short, most of the Cardinals in Rome now have only one job, their duty sine-qua-non as Cardinals, which is to elect a Pope.
The College of Cardinals, as a body, is given the collective responsibility of governing the universal Church. But this is only in regards the ordinary business of the Church and the carrying out of the election. The "Administrator" of the Holy See during the vacancy is the Cardinal Camerlengo, currently Cardinal Bertone. For this reason, during the interregnum period, the coat of arms of the Holy See changes from the Papal coat of Arms to the Coat of Arms of the office of the Camerlengo.
The first thing that will happen is that the Cardinal Camerlengo, together with the senior Cardinal of each Order of Cardinals (which are, I believe, Cardinal Sodano, Cardinal Arns, and Cardinal Tauran) will set the date for the first "General Congregation". These are the meetings of all of the Cardinals, which are to be held daily. All the Cardinals are required to attend these General Congregations. There are three exceptions. First, those who do not enjoy the right of election (i.e., they are over 80 years old) are excused. Also excused are those who are impeded by sickness and those impeded by some other grave reason. Only the College of Cardinals can determine whether or not a reason is grave enough to constitute an impediment. You can read my early comment on this.
In addition to the "General Congregations" there is also a "Particular Congregations". The Particular Congregations involve a smaller group of Cardinals, and they handle minor issues that need not be brought to the entire body. (I suppose you might think of them as a kind of Steering Committee or Executive Committee.) The Particular Congregations also help with the preparation of the Sistine Chapel for voting and they grant permission for any outside communication by the Cardinals. These Particular Congregations are made up of the Cardinal Camerlengo and three Assistants, all Cardinals. The Assistants are chosen by lot--one from each order of Cardinal (Cardinal-Bishop, Cardinal-Priest, and Cardinal-Deacon)--and they rotate every three days.
At the first General Congregation, all the Cardinals are given a copy of Universi domenici gregis and Normas Nonnullas. They then each take an oath to observe all the norms set forth in each, and to maintain the secrecy of the Conclave. This takes up the business of the first General Congregation.
In the next General Congregation, presumably the next day, they get down to business. The law lists many things for them to decide, but most of them have to do with the arrangements for the Pope's funeral, which obviously is not an issue. That leaves __ things for them to do, as follows:
- They have to see to it that the residence Domus Sanctae Marthae is prepared for the arriving Cardinals. This includes sweeping the place for electronic listening equipment. One thing to note, is that some people have the impression that the Domus Sanctae Marthae is some residence that stays empty until it's needed for an election. Not true. Most of the time, people (all priests, I think) live there who work at the Holy See. They are required to vacate their rooms, and most have moved out this past week. Their belongs are put into a sealed cabinet in the rooms, and the rest of the room is given over to these use of the Cardinal who will stay there until after the election.
- They name two 'ecclesiastics' (usually another Cardinal) to provide meditations "on the problems facing the Church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope". They also fix the dates and times of these meditations.
- They have to approve the payment of expenses incurred until the new Pope is elected.
- They have to destroy the implements of the Pope's Office -- the seal of the "Fisherman's Ring" and lead seal that marks Papal documents
- They assign rooms by lot in the Domus Sanctae Marthae by lot.
And finally, and most importantly, they:
- Set the day and hour of the beginning of the voting process.
For the setting of the voting process, and the changes made by the Pope's most recent document, see my earlier blog post here.
One thing I want to emphasize is that, as should be clear, the Cardinals cannot begin voting tomorrow. (In fact, the current rumor is that the General Congregation won't even be held on Friday, but that they will wait until perhaps Monday to begin). Even if they decide to begin voting before the 15-day period, it is likely that the earliest they could start would be the 9th.
What we should hear first, from Cardinal Bertone, is the day of the first General Congregation. Only after that, will they set the date. In the meantime, they need to schedule the days of meditation and other preparation. Only then may they begin voting.
I hope to do another blog piece on the process of voting in the next several days.