Precise Limits for Conclave, Except for Its Duration

Rules Spell Out How Often the Voting Occurs

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 14, 2005 ( Many aspects of the upcoming conclave are regulated by detailed norms, except for its duration.

The length of the conclave will depend primarily on the number of ballots the cardinal electors will need to elect a new pope.

The only valid form to elect a pontiff is by secret ballot, John Paul II indicated in «Universi Dominici Gregis» (UDG), his 1996 document on the vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of a new pope.

The election of a pope requires two-thirds of the votes of the electors present in the conclave — or two-thirds plus one if the number of cardinals cannot be divided into three equal parts. The conclave starts Monday.

In UDG, No. 83, John Paul II wrote: «I earnestly exhort the Cardinal electors not to allow themselves to be guided, in choosing the Pope, by friendship or aversion, or to be influenced by favor or personal relationships towards anyone, or to be constrained by the interference of persons in authority or by pressure groups, by the suggestions of the mass media, or by force, fear or the pursuit of popularity.

«Rather, having before their eyes solely the glory of God and the good of the Church, and having prayed for divine assistance, they shall give their vote to the person, even outside the College of Cardinals, who in their judgment is most suited to govern the universal Church in a fruitful and beneficial way.»

The rite of entry in the conclave will take place Monday afternoon. The 115 cardinal electors who have confirmed their participation will enter the Sistine Chapel where they will previously invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit with the hymn «Veni Creator.»

If nothing prevents it, that same afternoon there will be only one ballot, and if the election does not take place, in subsequent days two ballots will be held in the morning and two in the afternoon.

UDG states: «In the event that the Cardinal electors find it difficult to agree on the person to be elected, after balloting has been carried out for three days in the form described above (in numbers 62ff) without result, voting is to be suspended for a maximum of one day in order to allow a pause for prayer, informal discussion among the voters, and a brief spiritual exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Deacons.»

«Voting is then resumed in the usual manner, and after seven ballots, if the election has not taken place, there is another pause for prayer, discussion and an exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Priests,» it adds.

«Another series of seven ballots is then held and, if there has still been no election, this is followed by a further pause for prayer, discussion and an exhortation given by the senior Cardinal in the Order of Bishops. Voting is then resumed in the usual manner and, unless the election occurs, it is to continue for seven ballots,» states UDG.

Once the 34 ballots have been held without a positive result, if a majority of cardinal electors agree, the requirement to elect a pope would only require a simple majority of votes, rather than a two-thirds vote.

«Nevertheless, there can be no waiving of the requirement that a valid election takes place only by an absolute majority of the votes or else by voting only on the two names which in the ballot immediately preceding have received the greatest number of votes; also in this second case only an absolute majority is required,» specifies UDG in No. 75.

Fourteen ballots were required to elect Pius XI (1922-1939), the highest number in the eight conclaves of the 20th century. Only three were necessary, the lowest figure, to elect Pius XII (1939-1958).

The conclave does not conclude with the positive result of the election, UDG states in No. 91, but only «after the new Supreme Pontiff assents to his election, unless he should determine otherwise. From that moment the new Pope can be approached by the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the Secretary for Relations with States, the Prefect of the Papal Household and by anyone else needing to discuss with him matters of importance at the time.»

In 1978, Pope John Paul I’s first decision was not to close the conclave immediately, but to keep the College of Cardinals together until the following day, to be able to deliver an address to his electors as well as to the non-electors.

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