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UDG, with due deference, totally superseded Paul VI’s (#263) October 1, 1975, Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo (the election of the Roman Pontiff), which had dealt with the same topics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.



  2 Responses to “John Paul II’s ‘Universi Dominici Gregis,’ Apostolic Constitution — The Inconsistencies”

  1. From Andrea Mondello [[http://papam.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/1731-cardinal-bishop-precedence-we-have-the-answer-english-translation-is-wrong/]]
    another issue:

    Please read Paul VI’s Romano Pontifice eligendo 1975 (RPE). #7 and #9 corresponds to UDG #7 and #9.

    Note also that #9 presents the same “one or both” issue. But instead of “maximus natu” we read “antiquior” = senior, which fits much better.

    Anyway now I understood the difference between UDG #7 § 1 and #7 § 3. The latter is an emergency assembly if there is something important and urgent to be decided during the vacancy.

    I bet now you have enough material for a boring chapter about #9. 🙂

    My doubts are getting solved…


  2. Another comment from Andrea Mondello [[please see above]

    Ok, you’re right, #9 is not that important. Anyway mhmhhm…I have new doubts. #7 § 1 and #7 § 3 are about different assemblies? It seems so, because #7 §1 eneral congregation is open to every cardinal, whilst assembly of #7 § 3 is for electors (only?). But if you go to #9 it seems that there is only one presidency.

    And there is a new strange thing: if “one or both”…if you want to respect that, it means that Dean can be a president only if there is the subdean, subdean can never be a president (because Dean should be absent). Very strange, because it says otherwise just one sentence before.

    #9 is a masterpiece, isn’t it?

    Note also that #9 is recalled by #52 (order of oath) after the words “Cardinalis Decanus aut Cardinalis primus ordine et aetate”. That would match with the interpretation I proposed and with the exclusion of subdean (not mentioned).

    One more thing: Total absence of cardinal bishops could obstacle the application of #87 (no remedy is proposed)

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