17 February 2013

Early Conclave?

There has been much discussion in the media about the Conclave.   Two pieces of information have struck me as being incorrect.  The first regards the question of changing the date of the Conclave to make it earlier. The second is the earliest date on which the Conclave can begin. Click on the "Read More" button below to continue.

Q:  May the Conclave begin before the lapse of 15 days?

Some news outlets are reporting that it might be possible for the Papal Conclave to begin early.  The source for this seems to be Fr. Frederico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Holy See.  According to Fr. Lombardi  because this vacancy does not involve a death, the Cardinals could interpret the law to allow for a shorter delay.  I think this interpretation is wrong, and this is why:

The governing law here is primarily the document Universi domenici gregis (UDG), the Apostolic Constitution issued by Bl. Pope John Paul II governing papal conclaves.  It is true that the document generally speaks of the death of the Pope when discussing the procedures to when the Holy See of Rome is vacant.  However, it also contains this very important paragraph:
77. I decree that the dispositions concerning everything that precedes the election of the Roman Pontiff and the carrying out of the election itself must be observed in full, even if the vacancy of the Apostolic See should occur as a result of the resignation of the Supreme Pontiff, in accordance with the provisions of Canon 333 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law and Canon 44 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
The document makes explicit that its provisions apply equally and entirely to a vacancy caused by a resignation.  There is no room for interpretation here, as Fr. Lombardi apparently seemed to indicate.

Moreover, it is just as explicit that the Cardinals have no power whatsoever to change the provision of voting on their own authority.  Any attempt to do so would be void.  Again, UDG is explicit on this:
4. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, laws issued by the Roman Pontiffs can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Indeed, should anything be done or even attempted against this prescription, by my supreme authority I declare it null and void.
 Now, Pope Benedict remains the Supreme Legislator.  He and he alone possess legislative power over the Universal Church.  He could amend the law, or express a derogation from it.  But that is still not quite sufficient.  The Code of Canon Law is clear that a law comes into being "when it is promulgated".  (c. 7)  Generally speaking, laws from the Holy See are promulgated by being published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS).  It is extremely unlikely that a new volume of that publication will come out before the Pope resigns.  However, the law also permits the Pope, in particular cases, to specify another method of promulgation, such as printing the text in L'Osservatore Romano.

In addition, the law requires a delay (vacatio legis) between its promulgation and its coming into force.  Generally speaking, that delay is 3 months from their publication in AAS.  Even if the Pope were to amend UDG and promulgate that amendment today, it still would not take effect until May.  However, as with the promulgation requirement, the Pope can waive the period of delay, but he must do so explicitly.

Therefore, in order for the Conclave to begin before the expiration of 15 days, Pope Benedict would have to amend the current law before his resignation.  In addition, he would also have to specify another manner of promulgation, promulgate it in the way mentioned, and then explicitly waive the normal delay (vacatio legis) between the date of promulgation and the date of effectiveness.

Q:  Under the current law, when is the earliest that the Conclave may begin

Many in the press, and some prominent Canon Lawyers, have said that the Papal Conclave may begin at the earliest on March 15.  As I said in an earlier post, I think this is wrong.  Let me state the reasons why here.

Again, the document to look to is Universi domenici gregis.  The issue of when the conclave may begin is discussed most explicitly in paragraph 37.  It says, in full:
37. I furthermore decree that, from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant, the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent; the College of Cardinals is also granted the faculty to defer, for serious reasons, the beginning of the election for a few days more. But when a maximum of twenty days have elapsed from the beginning of the vacancy of the See, all the Cardinal electors present are obliged to proceed to the election.
The key phrase here is "fifteen full days".  The Latin makes this explicit:  quindecim solidos dies.  The Latin word being translated as full is solidos, from the Latin word solidus.  It is where we get our word "solid" in English.  In fact, we still use solid in a similar sense in English:  "He worked for three solid hours on the project."  The idea of solidus here is full, complete, unbroken, solid, or, as the translators rendered it "full".  And this is the period for waiting.  Thus, the Cardinals cannot proceed to an election until 15 whole days have passed.

The Code of Canon law discusses the computation of time (see cc. 200-203).  The canons describe a day as 24 unbroken hours.  When reckoning days, the first day is never counted in the reckoning.  That is, unless it is coincides with the beginning of the day or the law explicitly provides otherwise.  But the last days is always counted in the reckoning of the total number of days.

So how is this applied to the Papal Conclave.  Pope Benedict's resignation occurs at 8:00pm (Rome Time) on February 28.  The law says you must count 15 full days.  Obviously, since the resignation begins at 8:00pm, it is not a full day.  So, you have to begin counting on March 1, the day following.  Because that day is full (i.e., the day begins at midnight), you do count it in the reckoning.  You also count the last day.  So starting with (and including) March 1 and counting out 15 days, you end on March 15.  Again, this is the period for waiting.  That means, that there can be no election until this entire period has elapsed.

In other words, the earliest a Papal Conclave may begin is 12:01am on Saturday, March 16.

As I said in the earlier post, this is precisely what happened in 2005.  Bl. Pope John Paul II died on April 2.  The first full day would then be April 3.  Starting with that day and continuing for 15 days, the period of waiting would end on April 17.  The earliest they could have begun the conclave was April 18, which is exactly the date it began.