Jun 262010

q.v. my May 02, 2010 post
<< The Next Cardinal Creating Consistory by Pope Benedict XVI (#266) >>

Benedict XVI’s (#266) last cardinal creating consistory was on Saturday, November 24, 2007 when he created 23 cardinals, 5 of them non-electors [i.e., already over 80].

That, as of today [i.e., June 26, 2010], was 2 years, 7 months and 2 days [i.e., 945 days] ago. Per my metric of ‘number of cardinals per months as pope,‘ Benedict XVI is now at .61 [i.e., 38 cardinals during 62 months as pope]. If you would please look at the charts in on my May 02, 2010 post on consistory trends <above>, you will see that this pope is well within the norms — well ahead of the rates of Pius X (#258), Benedict XV (#259), Pius XI (#260) and the extremely reticent Pius XII (#261).

In the last two weeks, I have seen a lot of ‘chatter,’ e-mails and posts, with folks speculating as to when the next cardinal creating consistory might be. There are basically two camps: the Nov/Dec 2010 camp and the Spring of 2011 camp. I, for one, am happy that the 2011 ‘campers’ are costs and economics as to why the pope may decide to delay the consistory. I had pointed this out, multiple times, this year. The Vatican is facing the same problem as BP. They are not sure how much the ongoing ‘spill,’ in each of their cases, is going to end up costing. The police raids in Belgium, on June 24, indubitably, adding to the popes concerns.

As of June 26, 2010, we have 179 cardinals of which 108 are electors.

Of the 179 cardinals: 6 = Cardinals Bishops, 3 = Oriental Rites Patriarchs, 143 = Cardinal Priests & 27 = Cardinal Deacons.

Of the 108 electors: 4 = Cardinals Bishops, 1 = Oriental Rites Patriarch, 87 = Cardinal Priests & 16 = Cardinal Deacons.


There are no statutes, at present, dictating the overall size of the College of Cardinals. As of December 3, 1586 and December 15, 1958 the size of the College was limited to 70 per Sixtus V (#228). John XXIII (#262) opted to override this 70 limitation, citing the increase in the size of the Church since the time of Sixtus V, but did not specify an upper limit. Following Benedict XVI’s November 24, 2007 consistory there were 201 cardinals — 120 of whom were electors. That 201 is the largest College to-date. Right now, based on the currently available titles, the College could get up to 218. [More below]

The number of permissible electors (at any given time) was capped at 120, in 1973, by a Paul VI (#263) edict. John Paul II (#265) exceeded this 120 limit, at least once — somehow confident (as it indeed proved to be the case) that this infraction would not become an issue since there would not be a conclave until the number, again, dropped below 120. [q.v. pages 123-124 of my ‘The Next Pope‘ book.] Benedict XVI, at his first consistory, in March 2006, let it be known that he did not intend, ever, to exceed the 120 limit.

These two charts, extracted from ‘The Next Pope’ book graphically illustrates how the size of the College has grown, exponentially, since the reign of John XXIII.

Exponential growth in the size of the College of Cardinals since 1958 from page 132 of Anura Guruge's 'The Next Pope Book'

Exponential growth in the size of the College of Cardinals since 1958 from page 132 of Anura Guruge's 'The Next Pope Book'

Another chart from Anura Guruge's 'The Next Pope' book showing how the size of the College of Cardinals has tripled since 1903

Another chart from Anura Guruge's 'The Next Pope' book showing how the size of the College of Cardinals has tripled since 1903


So right now we have 12 vacant elector slots.

On July 7, 2010, assuming nothing else transpires, we will have 13 vacant elector slots since U.S. Cardinal McCarrick will turn 80.

On November 14, 2010, assuming nothing else transpires, we will have 19 vacant elector slots.

On April 11, 2011, assuming nothing else transpires, we will have 25 vacant elector slots.

So herein lies one of the problems; one, obviously, overlooked but the normally meticulous, Paul VI. When a cardinal turns 80 he ceases to be an elector BUT he does not relinquish his ‘title.’ Titles only get freed up when a cardinal dies or in the very unlikely event that he resigns. [The last cardinal to resign was in 1927!] Thus, you could end up with a  shortage of appropriate ‘titles,’ as might be the case right now — though a pope can create new titles as long as he can locate suitable ‘properties’ in and around Rome. [On March 12, 1960, alone, John XXIII established 7 church titles for cardinal priests and 1 deaconry for a cardinal deacon.]

<< The College in essence has the equivalent of the so called ‘Baby Boomer Bulge.’ A growing number of non-elector cardinals swelling the ranks of the College. Shortly after Paul VI instituted his 120 rule there were only 6 non-elector cardinals. Today we have 71. That is larger than what the total College was for much of history. It is a significant cost to the Vatican. Think about it. >>

The average age of the 179 cardinals in the College, as of now, is 78. The average age of the 71 non-elector cardinals is 85. Hence, it would be reasonable to expect some level of attrition — though this is unlikely to be that many.

Pro hac vice is Latin for ‘on (or for) this occasion.’ Basically ‘for this turn’ (only). It denotes a temporary assignment that will cease to be once that specific ‘event’ or ‘occasion’ comes to an end.

When a cardinal deacon is elevated, per the jus optionis preferment schemes, the pope may decide, in some instances, to make his existing deaconry a pro hac vice church title for the duration of that cardinals life. This eliminates to need to assign a church title to the newly promoted cardinal.

Background: Cardinal priests are assigned a title to a Roman church. Cardinal deacons to a Roman deaconry. There are separate lists of each. Sixtus V (#228), who set the maximum size of the College at 70 in 1586, also specified, this time in 1587, that the church titles and deaconries were to be kept strictly separated. Per Sixtus a cardinal priest could not be assigned to a deaconry, or a cardinal deacon to a church title. The pro hac vice elevations, kind of contradict this, but with the explicit understanding that it is temporary, expedient move — and used when existing cardinal is being elevated.

The determination of ‘order’: Cardinals appointed from dioceses, around the world, typically bishops or archbishops, are made cardinal priests. Curial officials and eminent theologians are created as cardinal deacons. The most senior of curial officials (in some cases retired) are assigned to one of the six suburbicarian sees – thus making them (along with any Eastern Rites Patriarchs) cardinal bishops.

Right now we have 16 cardinal priests who have been elevated with pro hac vice deaconries.

In commendam, a custom dating back at least a 1,000 years, is the concept of giving an ecclesiastical benefice, in trust, to the custody of a patron — basically to ensure that the patron will receive the remunerations associated with that benefice. A pope can assign a title (or deaconry) to a cardinal in commendam — if the cardinal resides in Rome. Right now we have one instance of this, with the Dean of the College, the 82-year old Italian Cardinal Bishop Angelo Sodano. On June 28, 1991 he was created a Cardinal Priest with the title of Santa Maria Nuova by John Paul II (#265). The next day he was appointed Secretary of State.

On January 10, 1994 he was made a Cardinal Bishop of Albano (per what is customary for a Secretary of State) BUT was allowed, by John Paul II, to keep the title for S. Maria Nuova in commendam. That does not happen often. It meant that he would enjoy additional revenue — probably because he was #2 at the Vatican.

On April 19, 2005 the College lost its Dean. [He became pope]. Five days later the remaining Cardinal Bishops elected Sodano as the Dean. As Dean he got Ostia in addition to Albano. That is the due of a Dean — the proceeds from two Sees. But, Sodano continued to keep S. Maria Nuova in commendam — and still does though he no longer holds any curial office. So he enjoys the proceeds from three Sees.

Currently there are total of 141 Roman churches that can be assigned to Cardinal Priests and 63 Roman deaconries that can be assigned to Cardinal Priests.

Right now we have 143 Cardinal Priests & 27 Cardinal Deacons.

But 16 of the Cardinal Priests have pro hac vice titles. That means only 127 titles are in use. So there should be 14 free, but Sodano holds S. Maria Nuova in commendam to top of Albano and Ostia. So we only have 13.

When it comes to the deaconries, we have 27 Cardinal Deacons & 16 prior Cardinal Deacons using pro hac vice titles. So 43 of the current deaconries are in use. That still leaves 20 free.

So right now we have 33 vacancies, 13 for Cardinal Priests and 20 for Cardinal Deacons.

Oriental rites patriarchs are  created Cardinal Bishops — without the assignment of a ‘Roman’ title. So, if need be, more patriarchs (there can be a total of eight) could be created Cardinal Bishops.


The College, as described in detail in this post, has always had various jus optionis (right of option), which enabled senior cardinals to seek preferment within the College.

The current jus optionis scheme is embodied in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 350 §5 & §6.  Per this Canon, cardinal priests may transfer to another title and cardinal deacons to another diaconia – based on seniority and papal approval.

A cardinal deacon with ten full years of tenure can request to be made cardinal priest – with his precedence within the new order being based on his original day of creation. This option of getting promoted to the presbyteral order [i.e., priestly] is very popular and has been widely used – cardinals, since 1961, no longer having the right to seek promotion to the episcopal [i.e., bishopric] order.

There are currently 6 Cardinal Deacons who will reach their 10 year anniversary on February 21, 2001. Given the current shortage of titles, those that seek elevation, are likely to be elevated pro hac vice.

Paul VI’s (#263) 1970 decision to preclude cardinals over the age of 80 from voting was political gambit to weed out the most conservative of the cardinals from having a say in electing Paul’s successor.

Today, especially with cardinals-in-conclave being housed in the Domus Sanctae Marthae ‘guest house,’ it is difficult to claim that older cardinals cannot endure the rigors of a conclave, particularly when the current pope is 83 and John Paul II reigned till he was nearly 85.

Benedict XVI could raise the age limit. Paul VI’s 120 limit for electors was also purely arbitrary. Benedict XVI could change that too — which he will have to do if the age limit was to be increased.

In essence the pope could increase the size of the electorate without having to create any new cardinals.

Thank you.

Jun 242010

<< For the oldest popes >>

<< Minimum age to be a pope >>

John Paul II (#265) was 58 years, 3 months & 4 weeks old when elected pope on October 16, 1978. He was the youngest pope to be elected during the twentieth century, Benedict XV (#259), elected in September 1914 having been 531 days older.

John Paul II was, however, the twentieth youngest pope to be elected as of 1400 [dates pertaining to the popes prior to 1400 are either unreliable or unavailable and as such are impractical for meaningful analysis].

Benedict XV was the 22nd oldest [again as of 1400].

Leo X (right) youngest pope since 1400, with his cousin one pope later would be the second youngest as Clement VII. Painting by Raphael

Leo X (right) youngest pope since 1400, with his cousin, who one pope later would be the second youngest, as Clement VII. Painting by Raphael

In June 1846, Pius IX (#256) was elected at the age of 54. Two popes separated Pius IX from Benedict XV. Pius IX was the 12th youngest since 1400.

Average age at election of the 62 popes elected since 1400 is 62.4 years.

Per my research it would appear that the minimum theoretical age at which one could become pope, in the future, is 25 – that being the minimum age to be a Catholic priest or deacon.

One of the youngest popes ever was probably John (‘Octavian’) XII (#131), the illegitimate son of Alberic II who ruled Rome from 932 to 954. Alberic, on his deathbed, coerced influential Romans to promise that they would make sure his son, Octavian, would succeed him as the ruler of Rome and also be appointed the next pope. Octavian became John XII [his step-uncle having been John XI (#126)] in December 955 when Agapetus II (#130) died.  John was supposed to have been around 18 years of age at that point.

The infamous Benedict IX (#146, #148 & 151), who served an unprecedented three terms as pope, was also quite young when  first elected in October 1032. He was the last layman to be elected pope. Though there are those that claim that he was but a teenager when elected in reality he was probably in his twenties.

The youngest pope elected since 1400 was Leo X (#218) at the age of 37, in 1513. He the second son of the famous Lorenzo ‘il Magnifico’ Medici of Florence was created a cardinal, albeit without it being publicized (though this was prior to the in pectore practice that came to be in 1536) when he was but thirteen. Leo X, a cardinal deacon when elected, also happens to be the last non-priest/monk to be elected pope. It is said that on being elected he told his retinue ‘God has given us the papacy. Now let us enjoy it.’ Alak, this was not to be the case. His papacy was majorly buffeted by the rise of Martin Luther’s Reformation. He would die of malaria close to his 46th birthday.

The second youngest, since 1400, happens to be Leo X’s cousin Clement VII (#220), one pope later, at the age of 45. [So there is a 8 year difference between the youngest and the second youngest.] Clement VII’s parents were not married making him the last known pope of illegitimate birth.

The ten youngest popes, since 1400, to be elected are:

The ten youngest popes since 1400 by Anura Guruge

The ten youngest popes since 1400 by Anura Guruge

Note that three of these popes, #207 to #209, were consecutive; i.e., three popes in succession elected prior to their fiftieth birthday.

It is interesting that the six popes who were elected before they turned 50 did not enjoy particularly long pontificates. Eugene IV, who died at 62, was to be the oldest from this group. During the last 150 years the cardinals have hesitated about electing young, i.e., those in their fifties, given the possibility of a pontificate that might last three decades.

Jun 212010

Canon 332 §2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law explicitly permits a pope to resign; the Canon stating: ‘If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely …’ This Canon in essence codified what was believed to have been tacit in Canons 185 and 188 of the 1917 Code. John Paul II’s (#265) 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis which specifies the ‘special laws’ that come into play during a sede vacante, accedes to Canon 332 §2 by acknowledging in its Clause #3 that a sede vacante may occur due to the valid resignation of a pope.

That popes could resign [i.e., abdicate] is a relatively old notion with documented instances to serve as precedence. Way back, on December 10, 1294, Celestine V (#193) issued a bull, Constitutionem felicis recordationem, from Naples [Italy], stating that the protocols for papal elections (including that of holding them within a sequestered conclave) set forth by Gregory X in 1274 would still apply, in no way altered, even in the event that a sede vacante is caused by the abdication of a pope. Three days later, Celestine V, the Godfather of today’s conclaves, abdicated — just 106 days after he had been consecrated as pope. Alas the resignation did not work per the expectations of this pious pope (as will be described later).

Despite this long-term permissibility of papal resignation, the last pope to have resigned was Gregory XII (#206), on July 4, 1415 — and that was in what can only be characterized as exceptional, unlikely-to-ever-be duplicated circumstances. [See below]

Gregory XII is the only pope to have resigned since the 1294 abdication of Celestine V.

In reality, we only know of four (4) popes that have ‘voluntarily’ and legitimately resigned as of the 1st millennium.

In total, we are only aware of six (6) ‘voluntarily’ and legitimate resignations of popes, though even a couple of these are in doubt.

These being, in reverse chronological order:

1. Gregory XII (#206) on July 4, 1415 [to end the Great Western Schism].

2. Celestine V (#193) on December 10, 1294 [hoping to resume being an aesthetic monk].

3. Benedict IX (#146, #148 & #151), his 2nd term, on May 1, 1045 [when he abdicated, per a deed he had set up, handing over the papacy to his godfather, John Grantin (Gregory VI (#149)), reputedly in exchange for 1,450 pounds of gold (~$25M in today’s prices). Though it may not have been as formal as when he relinquished his 2nd term, Benedict IX fled Rome on September 15, 1044 (after nearly 12 years as pope) to escape unrest by the locals at his papacy, thus leaving the Holy See vacant such that it could be claimed by Silvester III (#147) with help from the then powerful Crescentii family.

The cloisters of the monastery at Rome’s St. Paul’s Outside the Wall – where John XVIII retired to after abdicating as pope

4. John XVIII (XIX) (#142) in mid-1009 [is thought to have abdicated, shortly before his death, to spend his last days as a monk at the monastery of Rome’s San Paolo fuori le Mura [St. Paul’s Outside the Walls].
5. Silverius (#58) on November 11, 537 [having previously been deposed and exiled] may have been coerced into abdicating to legitimize the papacy of his successor Vigilius (#59).
6. Pontian (#18) on September 28, 235 [upon been arrested and deported to Sardina, as part of Emperor Thrax’s persecution, so as to permit orderly succession in Rome if there was to be a lull in the imperial crackdown].

That is it — as far as we can tell.

Marcellinus (#29), who succumbing to the harsh Diocletian persecution is said to have surrendered copies of the scriptures and burned incense to the pagan gods, is thought to have abdicated. But, there is no credible record of this.

Then there are situations such as with John X (#123), during the Saeculum Obscurum (Dark Ages a.k.a. ‘pornocracy) of the papacy. He was deposed and imprisoned, probably baselessly, in 928. Though Leo VI (#124) was appointed pope in May 928 following the imprisonment of John X, there is no documentation that John resigned. John X died in 929 — mostly likely suffocated with a pillow!)

Pius VII (#252), ignoring the advice of the curia, agreed to be participate in Napoleon I’s coronation in Paris in 1804. Before leaving for Paris is said to have left a letter of resignation at the Vatican in the event that he imprisoned while in France. He wasn’t and the letter must have expired. Ironically, he was to be arrested and detained 5 years later. He, however, did not resign. It is also said that Pius XII (#261), during WW II, had a letter of resignation in place in the event that he was captured.


There are three main reasons as to why there have been only 6, maybe even just 5, known papal resignations — though we also know that, at various times, there have been incessant calls for popes to resign. These 3 reasons being:

1/ The bona fide fear of precipitating a schism [i.e., split] within the Church if a faction of the congregation still insists on maintaining communion with the ex-pope. [Celestine V fell foul of this concern.]

2/ Reluctance of popes to succumb to external pressures which might undermine the mystique and invincibility associated with their office.
3/ Partiality of the ‘papal court’ to resort to other options to force papal succession — hence the continued intrigue as to what happened to John Paul I (#264).
[The 2004 book ‘The Death of the Popes‘ contends, albeit as allegations, that 9 popes, including John Paul I may have been poisoned since the abdication of Gregory XII. Benedict XV (#259), who died in 1922, is one of those listed. Though his death was sudden and unexpected most find it hard to believe that anybody could even suspect that his death was anything other than natural — due to the flu. But, given the twists and turns of papal history, any and all unexpected deaths are viewed with suspicion. Thus, the death of Sixtus ‘the Iron Pope’ V (#228), in 1590, is also deemed incongruous, in part given his known unpopularity, though he had been afflicted with malaria multiple times.]


Celestine V, canonized in 1313 nineteen years after his abdication, was a reluctant pope. He was not a cardinal, a bishop or even a priest. Instead, he was an ascetic hermit monk, Pietro ‘Angelerio’ [a.k.a. Pietro da Morrone] well known for his devoutness, who had spent much time, in solitary isolation, in a cave [on a mountain named ‘Morrrone’]. The sede vacante that followed the death of Nicholas IV (#192) in 1292 had lasted 822 days with the cardinals, not confined to a conclave, unable to agree upon who should be the new pope. At that point, the Dean of the College of Cardinals received a letter from ‘Pietro’ warning of divine retribution if the cardinals dallied any longer. [It is now believed that Charles II, the King of Sicily, a pivotal ruler of that time may have encouraged ‘Pietro’ to send that letter]. The Dean suggested to the other cardinals that ‘Pietro’ should be elected as the new pope. He was; in absentia. He was finally consecrated 55 days later.

Celestine V, who had accepted the papacy with reluctance, had one mission that he wished to accomplish. He, like Gregory X (#185), two decades earlier, wanted to ensure that cardinals would elect new popes without delay. To encourage this Gregory X had instituted his landmark Ubi Periculum constitution which called for conclaves with very little, if any, creature comforts. In less than two years the cardinals had managed to get Ubi Periculum suspended. Hence the lengthy sede vacante prior to the appointment of Celestine V. Within a month of being consecrated pope, Celestine reinstated Ubi Periculum. Soon after he wanted to get back to being a monk. He sought counsel from Cardinal Benedetto Caetani, the senior most cardinal priest and an expert on canon law. Caetani, it would appear quite rightly, affirmed that there were no laws to forbid a voluntary abdication. The pope then asked Caetani to prepare a formal statement of abdication. The pope, in the meantime, issued a third bull, Constitutionem felicis recordationem, from Naples, on December 10, 1294. This bull stated that all of Ubi periculum would still apply, in no way altered, even in the event that a sede vacante is caused by the abdication of a pope, rather than by his death. The pope was determined to make sure that he did not leave any bases uncovered. In hindsight, it does appear that he did do an admirable job in this respect. Three days later he abdicated.

Eleven days after his abdication Benedetto Caetani was elected pope and chose to be Boniface VIII (#194). Once pope, Boniface, fearing the possibility of a schism, would not let Celestine return to his mountain retreat. Instead, he had him imprisoned. He died while a prisoner from an infection in May 1296 [though he had managed to escape once, early on].


At the time Gregory XII resigned there were two other competing ‘popes,’ viz. Benedict (XIII) and John (XXIII) — the latter who had been a genuine sea-faring pirate in his youth. This was the latter stages of the unfortunate Great Western Schism, 1378 to 1417, which came on the heels of the French Avignon Papacy, which had lasted from 1309 to 1378. To begin with there had been two competing popes, one in Rome, the other in Avignon. At the first conclave to be held in Rome after Avignon, a non-cardinal Italian curialist had been elected as a compromise to appease the rampant Roman ‘mob’ that wanted a Roman, or failing that, an Italian pope. This, the last non-cardinal to be elected pope was to be Urban VI (#203). Despite the conclave that elected him being stormed, multiple times, by the Romans, Urban’s election appears to have been legitimate. Gregory XII was the third in the Roman ‘line’ (or discipline) after Urban VI. The first of the competing neo-Avignon popes had been elected six months after Urban VI.

In 1409 a council was held in Pisa [Italy] to end this schism. The Pisa council, rather than succeeding in eliminating one of popes, ended up creating yet another pope — this one associated with Pisa. Hence the three competing popes. The Roman discipline, however, always maintained that they had legitimacy based on the valid fact that Urban VI was the first to be elected.

Finally in 1414 another council was convened in Germany, at Constance, at the behest of the then German king. None of the three competing popes attended. They all knew that the Council of Constance intended to get rid of them all and create a brand new pope. Gregory XII, however, sent two papal legates, one a cardinal, the other a prince. Gregory had insisted that his legates be permitted to officially ‘summon’ the council and preside over it so that the council would be seen as having been given the papal imprimatur. The German king and the prelates present at the council acquiesced since they understood that having papal endorsement, from the supposedly legitimate discipline, would provide credibility and authority to the council. Once the council was in session, under their presidency, the pope’s legates read out Gregory XII statement permitting the legates to tender his resignation. The ex-pope was then immediately created the titular cardinal bishop of the suburbicarian see of Porto and Santa Ruffina. He was to die two years later. The other two ‘popes’ were deposed though Benedict continued to claim his ‘legitimacy’ until his death in Spain in 1423.

Jun 182010

Pope Benedict XVI, 8th oldest pope as of 1400

Pope Benedict XVI (#266) turned 83 on April 16, 2010.

When elected on April 19, 2005, he had just turned 78. The conclave that elected him started two days after his birthday.

At 78 and 3 days he was the 5th oldest to be elected pope (as on 1400).

[Dates pertaining to the popes prior to 1400 are either unreliable or unavailable and as such are impractical for meaningful analysis.]

Benedict XVI was the oldest to have been elected in 274 years.

The prior pope older than him was Clement XII (#247) who was elected on July 12, 1730. Clement, was also 78, but was 83 days older.

The oldest popes when elected, as of 1400, are:

1. Clement X (#240) who was 79 years 9 months when elected on April 29, 1670.

2. Alexander VIII (#242) who was 79 years 5 months when elected on October 6, 1689.

3. Paul IV (#225) who was 78 years 10 months when elected on May 23, 1555.

4. Clement XII (#247) who was 78 years 3 months when elected on July 12, 1730.

5. Benedict XVI (#266) who was 78 years 3 days when elected on April 19, 2005. The current pope.

[Note that Clement X and Alexander VIII were separated by just one pope, Innocent XI (#241) was 65 when elected.]

Alexander VIII papacy lasted 15 months while that of Paul IV was just over 4 years long. Clement X’s papacy was over 6 years long while that of Clement XII 9 and ½ years long.

The oldest pope since 1400 was Leo XIII (#257) who was 93 years, 4 months and 18 days old when he passed away on July 20, 1903.

The list of the oldest popes, as of 1400, is as follows (to June 18, 2010):

On July 19, 2010, Benedict XVI will overtake Gregory XIII to take over the 7th slot. At that point he would be in a ‘berth’ very familiar to him. Below that of his mentor John Paul II. John Paul II was 84 years and 10 months old when he died. So Benedict will not usurp him till 2012.

It is interesting that only 5 of the 11 are as of the 19th century [during which we had 15 popes].

Hope this helps.

Anura Guruge

Jun 102010

by Anura Guruge

Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II’s (#265) February 22, 1996, Apostolic Constitution is the ‘Special Law,’ per the 1983 Code of Canon Law Canon 335 that specifies the governance of the Universal Church when the Roman See [i.e., the papacy] is vacant or entirely impeded.

Universi Dominici Gregis (UDG) is basically the current ‘standing orders’ as to what happens during a sede vacante. It specifies the protocols for the conclave and the papal election. The February 2005 conclave that elected the current pope, viz. Benedict XVI (#266), was conducted entirely per the rules specified in Universi Dominici Gregis (the Lord’s whole flock).

UDG, with due deference, totally superseded Paul VI’s (#263) October 1, 1975, Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo (the election of the Roman Pontiff), which had dealt with the same topics and had governed the two 1978 conclaves – John Paul II having been elected pope at the second, in October.

On June 11, 2007, 783 days after he became pope, Benedict XVI (#266) issued a motu proprio that changed Clause #75 of UDG so that a two-thirds majority was always required for a valid election (per canon #1 of the 1179  Third Lateran Council) — whereas John Paul II, in Clause #75, had made it possible for an absolute majority [i.e., greater than 50%] to be used if a pope had not been elected after 33 (or 34) ballots.

The bottom line is that Universi Dominici Gregis, with the one modification (to date) made by Benedict XVI in June 2007, is the Apostolic Constitution, the ‘Special Law,’ that will come into play at the next sede vacante [unless, of course, Benedict XVI decides to usurp it with a new Constitution.]

There are some puzzling inconsistencies in Universi Dominici Gregis.

Let me summarize them to begin with so that we can have a high-level, global picture of the ‘issues’ we are contending with:

As to WHEN a sede vacante occurs is not articulated in a consistent manner.
A sede vacante can occur due to the death of a pope or the valid resignation of a pope.
But, UDG flip-flops on this. Basically due to copying-and-pasting text from Paul VI’s Constitutions, UDG forgets to mention papal resignations in a number of crucial places.
Just talks about a sede vacante due to the death of a pope.
Papal resignations will ALWAYS be rare, but you have to be consistent and not just forget that possibility.

Inconsistency in specifying who will perform the duties normally assigned to the Dean of the College of Cardinals if the Dean and Sub-Dean are unable to participate in a conclave — most likely if both of them are over the 80 year cut-off rule, which is actually the case right now, where both the Dean and Sub-Dean over 80.

Not adequately reflecting the fact that a conclave can legitimately elect a person not present at the conclave. Though this has not happened in 450 years, it is always an option and possibility and should never be overlooked.

A very garbled, inane procedure to deal with the possibility of cardinal electors trying to sneak in duplicate ballots by folding one ballot inside another!

There is this unhealthy Pavlovian reaction where folks get excited and upset when one points out inconsistencies in stuff associated with the popes. This is not productive.

UDG is far removed from papal infallibility. It has nothing to do with doctrine. It is an administrative document. So there is no need to get defensive. Just deal with the facts.

Plus, I don’t, for a second, think that the pope wrote it. I, for one, don’t even think he read through all of it! So, this has nothing to do with John Paul II per se.

It is about inconsistencies that the Roman curia does bother to put right.

So just look at what I have to say. PROVE ME WRONG. I am never afraid of being wrong. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My motto: ‘Think FREE, or DIE’.


1/ Clause #3 of Universi Dominici Gregis, consistent with 1983 Code Canon 332 § 2, specifies that a sede vacante can occur following the valid resignation of the pope. Clause #37 that specifies the scheduling parameters for conclaves adheres to this by stating: ‘…, from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant,
BUT, Clauses #14, #15, #19 and #49 ONLY talk about a sede vacante following a pope’s death. It is not a show-stopper, and everybody knows what it supposed to say, though is not right.
So for example, per Clauses #19, the Dean will only convoke cardinals for the mandatory pre-conclave congregations IF he is informed of the death of the pope. Thus, there are no provisions for the Dean convoking the congregations IF the pope resigns. NOT right.
It actually gets ‘better.’ Per Clauses #14, heads of the curial dicasteries only have to resign at the death of a pope — not his resignation! That has never been the intent. Popes have always been averse to the curia being in anyway potent during a sede vacante. It is not right.
The best, however, is in Clauses #49. Though Clause #37 already stated it correctly and Clause #49 references #37, it still only caters for the cardinals meeting up for conclave on the death of a pope. Here, have a look:

Clause 49 of Universi Dominici Gregis per the Vatican

Celestine V (#193), accused of only having limited education, got all of this right in December 1294 when he made sure that his abdication would not in anyway be treated differently to what would have happened if he had died! So it is ironic that 700 years later, the curia would still trip up on something this basic and that none of the thousands of folks that work at the Vatican do not spot these inconsistencies. I have been a professional technical writer for three decades. I can’t think of any U.S. corporations that would have accepted a document with such inconsistencies.

2/ Clause #90, described in more detail below, is confusing, and is at odds with Clause #9, Clause #52, Clause #54 and Clause #87. All five clauses deal with who will deputize for the Dean of the College if the Dean and Sub-Dean are not present. << Please read this too. >>
The Vatican provided English translation of Clause #9 says that the surrogate will be the ‘senior Cardinal elector, according to the customary order of precedence.’ Clause #9, however, deals just with who will chair the pre-conclave General Congregations. It says that the Dean or Sub-Dean cannot chair these congregations if they are not electors. That seems strange. The 80-year age limit does not apply to these congregations and Clause #7 says that all cardinals must try and attend these congregations. If the Dean is present, it seems strange that he is told he can’t preside because chairing these congregations is primarily a ceremonial task!
It is also conceivable that there could be a scenarios when there are no cardinal bishops present at a conclave, because of the 80 year cut-off, illness, vacancies or political interference. The standard set in Clause #9 ensures that standard College of Cardinal precedence could be used in such situations. That is GOOD. It also means that the senior-most cardinal priest could perform the duties of the Dean. Nothing wrong. All good.
Clause #87 which deals with who will ask the pope-elect if he accepts his election states: ‘… The Cardinal Dean, or the Cardinal who is first in order and seniority …’ Great. Makes sense.
Clause #90, however, says different. It calls for the ‘senior’ Cardinal Bishop. Why the difference? Clause #90 should be consistent with #9, particularly so because ONLY electors will be present within a conclave. All cardinal priests, post 1962, will be bishops. So the consecration of a non-bishop is not a problem. [The only cardinals who are likely to get a papal exemption permitting them not to be bishops are those created cardinal deacons very late in their life.] While we are at it, we could also say that Clause #74 with the ‘runoff’ process, following the 33rd or 34th round of balloting, should also be worded to reflect the possible absence of any cardinal bishops.

[To be fair, we can start going to extremes. It is also theoretically possible to have a conclave without any cardinal deacons! So, if you really wanted the wording to be watertight, immune to a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court, then it must also cater for situations when the junior most cardinal priest would have to deputize for the senior most cardinal deacon. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court reference was a joke. A bit of levity, though it highlights the total immunity enjoyed by ‘papal law.’]

But now that I have started digging into this, it appears there are OTHER problems … if you start looking at the original Latin version of UDG. It appears that Clause #9 is said to state: ‘the oldest by age according to the general precedence order.’ Age does not usually play any role in precedence among cardinals! So that is now an added confusion.

This ‘age’ vs. ‘seniority’ also muddies Clause #90 as explained below.

Here is a pictorial summary of the inconsistencies described in ‘1/‘ and ‘2/‘ above. Please click on the image to get a full-size JPEG image — within your browser.

Some of the inconsistencies in 'Universi Dominici Gregis' by Anura Guruge

Some of the inconsistencies in 'Universi Dominici Gregis' by Anura Guruge

3/ The group oath taken by cardinal electors, as specified in Clause #53, states ‘… that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff …‘ It states, that the pope will be selected from among the cardinal electors. Well we all know that that has been the case, per TRADITION, as of 1378. But, Clause #83 of Universi Dominici Gregis, very correctly, points out that the cardinal electors can elect a ‘person, even outside of the College of Cardinals.‘ The wording on the oath is thus inappropriate. It is only an assumption that a cardinal elector may be chosen. It should say something along the lines of ‘IF one of us, by divine disposition …’

4/ Clause #69 is a joke! It has to do with the possibility of a cardinal elector sneaking in one or more additional ballots by inserting these duplicates inside of the one that he places in the urn. The whole logic behind this is garbled beyond comprehension. You have to read it to appreciate the level of confusion. In reality, this scenario can never happen! So to even talk about it is rather incongruous. To make it worse, the remediation suggested is ludicrous. If fraudulent ballots are discovered the ballot is NOT invalidated! Yep, the ballot is still considered to be legit. But, one shouldn’t be able to sneak in duplicate ballots. Clause #68 requires the urn to be vigorously shacked to loosen any such ballots that might be secreted inside others. Then the number of ballots are counted. If there is an under-count or over-count the ballot is invalidated. So, the scenario is #69 shouldn’t happen. If it did, then the ballot should also be invalidated. Read it. [[ Yes, I do elaborate this in my book. Read that. I document all of this in that book. ]]

The Vatican provided English translation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 355 § 1 says:
The cardinal dean is competent to ordain as a bishop the one elected as Roman Pontiff if he needs to be ordained; if the dean is impeded, the assistant dean has the same right, and if he is impeded, the oldest cardinal from the episcopal order.

Clause #90, paragraph 2 of John Paul II’s 1996 Universi Dominici Gregis talking about the very same situation says per the Vatican supplied English translation:
If the newly-elected Supreme Pontiff is not already a Bishop, his episcopal ordination, referred to in Nos. 88 and 89 of the present Constitution, shall be carried out according to the usage of the Church by the Dean of the College of Cardinals or, in his absence, by the Subdean or, should he too be prevented from doing so, by the senior Cardinal Bishop.

Oldest and Senior are NOT the same.

The Latin word used in both cases is ‘antiquior’.

But now we have two DIFFERENT interpretations. To exacerbate this, Clause #9, as discussed above, in its Latin, talks about the ‘oldest by age’.

This is a problem. Precedence by age is very different to precedence by seniority. Right now, after the Dean and Sub-Dean, Cardinal Re has precedence by seniority since he became a cardinal bishop ahead of Cardinals Arinze, Bertone and Martins. But, Cardinals Martins is OLDER than Cardinal Re.

Can you see the issue?

If I am wrong, show me how and where I am wrong.



Jun 052010

On June 4, 2010, Brother Benet Exton, O.S.B., of St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, OK, who had also reviewed my first papal book, wrote about ‘The Next Pope‘ book in the ‘Catholic News Agency’ book review section.

I am yet again delighted and humbled. Two significant endorsements of my papal work on consecutive days.

Here is the link to the CNA review << link >>.

Thank you all for your support and faith.

Anura Guruge

Jun 012010

The Sedes Stercoraria that is said to be in the Vatican

The sedes stercoraria [the posterior chair], a heavy, wooden throne with a conspicuous hole in the seat (à la a commode), despite its incredulity-factor, is not a bawdy myth created to poke fun at the gullible. These ‘thrones,’ in early Medieval times did serve a purpose, but contrary to what most believe it was not to check for gender per se! It is said that a there was a sedes stercoraria at St. John’s Lateran during the first part of the second millennium and there are persistent claims that at least two originals have been preserved within the Vatican (at one of the many museums) and in the famed Musée du Louvre in Paris [France]. Pope Joan, on the other hand, is an unmitigated, bold-faced fabrication.

Bluntly stated, there could not have been a ‘Pope Joan’ because there are no unaccountable gaps in papal history, between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, into which she could be slotted into. J.N.D. Kelly, in his bible-like ‘Oxford Dictionary of Popes,’ confirms this, uncategorically, and even states that this myth was demolished by a French protestant in the seventeenth century. On the whole Professor Kelly didn’t make too many errors and if he says that there was no female pope, it really should be taken as gospel. But, if you want additional affirmation please look her up, under ‘Popess Joan,’ in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia – another, in the main, oracle-like source. They don’t mince any words or leave anything to doubt, when they say: ‘This alleged popess is a pure figment of the imagination.’ The Wikipedia entry for ‘Pope Joan’ will gives you a good overview and give you access to many a useful link. If it is any consolation, I too, painstakingly, checked papacy dates and interregnums to see if there were any gaps that would provide credence for ‘Joan.’ I also double-checked the bona fides of all 24 of the ‘Johns,’ pope and antipope, to see if any of them, particularly the early ones, could have been a female. Suffice to say I did not find anything. J.N.D. Kelly and the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia are spot on.

The best I can offer is that ‘Pope Joan’ probably was an inspired and very pointed allegory to the travesty of the so called ‘pornocracy’ [i.e., Saeculum obscurum (dark ages) or even the ‘Rule of the Harlots’], between 904 to 964, when the papacy was but a puppet of the amoral, ruthless, mother-daughter duo of Theodora and Marozia. The legend of ‘Pope Joan’ may have been a feeble, medieval attempt to portray that there was a period in papal history when the pope might as well been a female.

The Sedes Stercoraria
Was To Check Against Castration

Saturn castrating his father Uranus in 16th century frescoe by Vasari & Cristofano Gherardi

Simple as that. So it wasn’t to check for females masquerading as males, but to make sure that males had not been subject to self- or forced castration.

Self-castration by driven, ascetics had always been a problem. Per tradition supposedly dating back to the times of the Old Testament one could not be a priest (as opposed to a monk) if not fully intact.

The First Council of Nicaea, in 325, was the first Ecumenical Council of the Church. It was convened by Emperor Constantine ‘The Great’ I, the liberator of Christianity who even personally attended some of the sessions. It had been convened to resolve the then raging ‘Arian Controversy’ [i.e., the exact nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son vis-à-vis the Trinity]. This seminal council promulgated 20 canons. The first was to prohibit self-castration!

That alone provides us with an unassailable data point as to how serious an issue self-castration was to the Church.

Extreme violence against popes, antipopes, their followers, papabili and Roman clergy, by competing camps or imperial forces was not uncommon well into the second millennium. In 768, after Stephen III (IV) (#95) was elected, antipope Constatine, who had seized the papacy a year earlier had his eyes gouged out by a mob partial to the new pope. Gelasius II (#162), 1118 to 1119, though elderly when elected pope, was twice brutally attacked during his short pontificate. Thus, it was not inconceivable that there could a pope-elect who had suffered irreparable damage during a skirmish.

Believed to be a 17th century woodcut of a pope being inspected.

If it ever came to pass that the pope was not intact it would, at a stroke, discredit the pope and undermine the papacy.

Thus, it would have made sense, in those tumultuous days to make sure that pope-elects were intact – prior to them taking office.

Hence, the Sedes Stercoraria.

Anura Guruge

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