by Anura Guruge
If there had been a conclave that started on Monday, February 21, 2011, we could have had three bona fide cardinal electors participating who were over the age of 80, viz. Cardinals Ricardo Vidal (dob Feb. 6, 1931), Agustin Garcia-Gasco Vicente (dob Feb. 12, 1931) & Camillo Ruini (dob Feb. 19, 1931). This would not have been due to any trickery, impropriety or misunderstanding. It would have been strictly by the rules, in this case Pope John Paul II’s (#265) 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis — which specifies what is to happen when there is a sede vacante. The two pertinent Universi Dominici Gregis clauses being #33 %& #37.
Universi Dominici Gregis #33 states: The right to elect the Roman Pontiff belongs exclusively to the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, with the exception of those who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day of the Roman Pontiff’s death or the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant.
Universi Dominici Gregis #37 states: 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.
So, as you can see, per UDG #33, the 80-year cut-off for conclave eligibility is the day prior to when the sede vacante began. Specifying the ‘day before,’ is a mediocre attempt to avoid any possible timing-related ‘complications’ if the cut-off was said to be the actual day that the sede vacante occurred.
Given that the earliest that the conclave can begin is 16 days after the start of the sede vacante, any cardinals who turn 80 during this ‘window’ can legitimately participate in the conclave as cardinal electors. As you can also see from UDG #37 it is even possible for this window to be extended up to 20 days.
I did a quick check on the 2005 conclave. I didn’t see any over-80 cardinals that attended. Ditto with the two conclaves in 1978. But, as you can now see it is all a question of timing — and the chances of over-80 cardinals participating in a conclave increases when we have surfeit of cardinals in their 79th year.
The Vatican has never really addressed exactly when a cardinal turns 80 — given that there are 24 time zones and the real possibility that a cardinal may have been born in one time zone and living in another, very different, one. For example lets take the ‘Tanned Ratzinger.’ He was born in Ceylon — +5.5 hours GMT. (Yes, Sri Lanka still, to its credit, uses a .5 time zone to ensure that sun rise and sun set, in this country, just 7 ° North of the equator, is as close to ‘6’ as possible.) So lets assume that he is brought to Rome as so many predict. He would then be in GMT +1. He, in Sri Lanka, will turn 80 4.5 hours AHEAD of him turning 80 in the Eternal City. See the challenge?
I wrote about this nearly 3 years ago. Have a read here if you want for details of this problem.
John Paul II, Cleverly, Changed The 80-Year Cut-Off Point!
As is fairly well known, it is Paul VI (#263), in 1970, that came up with the 80-year, non-elector criteria for cardinals — to weed out, older, conservative cardinals that may have tried to elect a pope who may have tried to downplay the reforms sought by Vatican II.
In 1975, Paul VI unveiled his sede vacante related Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici eligendo (which was superseded by John Paul II’s UDG in 1996).
Paul VI had a very different cut-off point for over-80 cardinals.
PauRomano Pontifici eligendo #33 states: The right to elect the Roman Pontiff belongs exclusively to the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, except for those of them who, in accordance with the norm previously established, shall have completed their 80th year when the time comes for entering into the conclave; the number of cardinal electors shall not, however, exceed 120. Excluded from among the electors, therefore, is any person of any other ecclesiastical rank and any layperson of whatever rank and order.
Paul VI excluded any cardinal, over 80, from entering the conclave! So if John Paul II had stuck with Paul’s criteria we would not have any over-80 cardinals entering a conclave (though it is always possible that a cardinal elector turns 80 while within the conclave).
So why did John Paul II change the Paul VI cut-off?
To me, that John Paul II changed the cut-off illustrated a fundamental difference in background, worldly experience and shrewdness of the two popes. John Paul II, given the rough-and-tumble existence he endured in Poland during WW II and the communist regime, comes across as more shrewd and cynical than the ‘gentle’ Paul VI. John Paul II obviously saw that there was a potential loophole in Paul VI’s scheme that could be exploited by a simple majority [i.e., 51%] of the College of Cardinals.
What is that loophole? The possibility of delaying the start of the conclave OR even refusing to delay the start of the conclave DEPENDING on whether it helped them in terms of when a 79-year old cardinal turned 80.
If you want details of the specific scenarios please check page 130 of my ‘The Next Pope.’ If you don’t have a copy you can read that page, for GRATIS (or even free), using Google Books or Amazon ‘Look Inside.’