…by Anura Guruge
The short answer: Nothing!
In theory they would not hear about or be told. Yes, those are the rules. In reality it would really be no different to if the Dean of the College, who is not an elector, were to die — or any other cardinal or prelate. The conclave must proceed without interference or interruptions. [Yes, today the Vatican, to my amusement, was coy whether the cardinal electors would be permitted ‘iPhones/iPads’ etc. during the conclave. The rules are crystal clear — or used to be until the ex-pope threw everything into disarray.
The pope emeritus will not be the Bishop of Rome. So you could argue that no bells need to be rung in Rome — which the cardinals could hear. There are some loopholes in the rules. The cardinal electors are permitted to walk from the Domus to the Sistine — rather than taking the supplied buses. Nobody is permitted to approach the electors and communicate with them. But, the electors can see and hear what is happening around them, beyond the walls. So, if they were smart enough, their aides to convey messages to them, in code, using lights, smoke signals or sounds. Nothing to stop somebody flying a plane dragging a sign — that was in code. In the same way the electors could convey information to those outside via pre-arranged ‘signals’. It could be very simple. Where they place their hands. Whether they swing their arms. If two of them are walking, how they line up: which one to the left of the other. So, message can be sent.
So, in theory, if pope emeritus Ratzinger were to die during the conclave, the conclave will proceed — oblivious (as it must). The cardinal non-electors will handle the funeral, if they had to … using one of the other Papal Basilicas in Rome.
What is more interesting is what would happen if an elector were to die during the conclave.
I am amazed. We haven’t had this happen since the 1774 to 1775 conclave that elected Pius VI (#251). That is 238 years ago — given that the conclave ended February 15, 1775. Two cardinals died at that conclave: Giovanni Francesco Stoppani (79 years old) died on November 18, 1774 [44 days into the conclave] and Ferdinando Maria de’ Rossi (79 years old) died on February 4, 1775 [122 days in, and 11 days from the end].
The conclave still has to go on. Yes, before Celestine V (#193) nailed down Ubi Periculum in 1294 cardinals would take a break to attend funerals. No more. The body will be passed out of the conclave, in ”silence’.