Pope Benedict XVI has issued an apostolic letter published today, called a motu proprio (Latin for “on one’s own initiative”), that addresses some changes to the rules on the election of the Roman pontiff.
The ‘Normas Nonnullas‘ (‘Some Norms’) were explained to accredited journalists at the Vatican pressroom by the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, and by Bishop Pier Luigi Celata, currently vice-chamberlain. Two persons helped with translations and clarifications into various languages, the Spanish Bishop José Maria Gil Tamayo and the Canadian priest Thomas Rosica.
“I find this motu proprio of great wisdom and great juridical and ecclesial communion” said Bishop Pier Luigi Celata, presenting the motu proprio of Benedict XVI that “was published to clarify some points of the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregi“.
“This is the second intervention by the pontiff”, said the vice-chamberlain, specifying that “the first was in 2007, when the pontiff decided to change the number of the majority needed to elect a new pope, which passed from half of the votes plus one to two thirds of the votes of the cardinal electors”.
Among the most relevant contents of the document is the possibility to change the date of the conclave. The constitution states that it must be held 15 to 20 days after the vacant see begins. “The motu proprio specifies that the college of cardinals is allowed to anticipate this date if all the electors are present in Rome, and is also allowed to postpone it in case of serious events.”
Another point made by the papal document is that if the number of cardinals is not divisible by three, or a multiple of three, dividing two-thirds of the votes to elect the pontiff becomes mathematically more complicated. Therefore, to avoid any confusion, it indicates that “at least two-thirds of the votes of the electors present and voting” is required.
These may seem like small things, the prelate said, but “when you move at the juridical level, the greatest precision is always necessary.”
Of secrecy on all matters relating to the election of the Roman pontiff, the document recalls how the oath states that cardinals are required to maintain it. Unlike the constitution, the document “provides that a violation of the same will result in the next pope deciding the canonical penalty. Instead, at present this responsibility does not fall to his successor, since the oath directly indicates the canonical penalty that is applied to the offending cardinal. That is, latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication“.
The document also indicates that a cardinal may have personal reasons for not participating in the conclave. And that a cardinal who, before the start of the conclave, excludes himself, cannot re-enter the Sistine chapel. The vice-chamberlain affirmed that “it is different if one is sick, for example, and then feels better and goes. In that case he can then enter the conclave and participate from the point it has reached. That is, it is not necessary to start the whole conclave over from the beginning.”
The motu proprio also addresses the two trusted technicians involved during the election of the future pontiff before or after the voting process. Should either of them not maintain secrecy, they incur “graviter onerata coscienza“(a “heavily burdened conscience”), as do all the participating collaborators.
“As we can see, the Pope has wanted to give attention to all aspects”, said Bishop Celata.
The motu proprio also addresses another problem related to secrecy, that is, preventing the Cardinals from being approached during their transport from their lodgings at the Domus Santa Marta to the Sistine Chapel. The new text removes “while being transported”, which means that the journey can also be made by the cardinals on foot and thus they do not necessarily have to be transported.
There were formerly two people counting the votes in the conclave and who handle the ceremonials, now there are eight. And the procession that takes place from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel will be a bit more solemn. There are other indications given as well, such as those involving the coordination of some moments of the conclave, as for instance when some of those present are invited to leave.
Another indication is that the Missa Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, celebrated by the whole body of the cardinals, will be presided by the dean of the cardinals.[Translation by Peter Waymel]