Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Background on a Papal Transition

The following remarks were offered by me at a Press Conference with Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM, Cap. and Bishop Robert Deeley at the Boston Archdiocesan Pastoral Center today.

I’m Monsignor Moroney, Rector of Saint John’s Seminary and a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  During the 2005 interregnum, as an official of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I served as spokesman for the USCCB for most major US TV networks and print media.

My recollections of those days of deep mourning for Blessed Pope John Paul II and of the seven years which have passed are marked with a certain sadness at the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, a wise and gentle pastor and one of the finest teachers of the faith who has ever worn the shoes of the fisherman.

Allow me but one small personal recollection from just over three months ago in the course of an audience with the Vox Clara Committee, a group of senior prelates which I serve as Executive Director.   Having recently been named Rector of Saint John's Seminary, I bragged to the Holy Father that Saint John's was completely filled with wonderful and highly talented men, to which he replied "Filled?  How wonderful!  Please tell them that I will pray for each of them."

And I know those were not just words.  I know he prayed for our seminarians, as he prayed for all the whole Church, most especially all those in need.  He is, more than anything else, a good pastor, our priest, who leads us to Jesus.

I thought it might be helpful if I briefly outlined the three phrases of Electing a Pope which will unfold over the coming weeks.  The entire process is regulated by the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (The Lord’s Universal Flock), promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1996.

Phase One
The first phase surrounds the extraordinary event of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Papal Office, an event which will take effect at 8:00pm Rome time on February 28th in accord with Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law.  At that precise moment we enter a Sede Vacante, or a vacancy in the Holy See.  This interregnum, which normally follows the death of a Pope, lasts until the Holy Father’s election.

The Vatican Press Office has made clear that upon his resignation the Holy Father will leave the Apostolic Palace and remain at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer home in the Castelli Romani.  When renovations on a monastary of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican walls has been completed, the Holy Father will return to Vatican City for a ministry of prayer and reflection. Pope Benedict XVI will not take part in the Conclave for the election of his successor.

Phase Two
The second phase in this process begins with the convening of the College of Cardinals under the leadership of the Dean of the College.  The College will be convened as a General Congregation on or about February 28th.  All members of the College, including those over 80 and ineligible to vote in the Conclave, may still attend this Congregation.

The Executive Board of the General Congregation is called the Particular Congregation and it is composed of the Cardinal Camerlengo (Cardinal Taricisio Bertone, presently Secretary of State to the Holy See) and three Cardinal Assistants (chosen by lot, every 3 days).
The Particular Congregation sets the date for the conclave and leads the discussions of the General Congregation on a wide variety of subjects relevant to the preparations for the Conclave.  Normally this process takes fifteen to twenty days from the death of the pope, including nine days of mourning, known as the novemdiales.  However, with the resignation of the Holy Father, the novemdiales are not required, which could mean an opening of the conclave as early as six days after his resignation, as early as March 6.  In any case, the date for the opening of the conclave will not be later than twenty days from Feb 28, or March 18th.

Phase Three
The third Phase is comprised of the actual election of the Pope by those members of the College of Cardinals under the age of eighty.  On the day the conclave opens there will be a Morning Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, followed by an afternoon procession from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel (Veni Creator Spiritus)

The Cardinal electors will take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitution; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting.

The Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations will then order all unauthorized persons to leave the conclave with the words extra omnes and the deliberations will begin.  Election requires a two thirds majority.


The College of Cardinals is led by its dean, and senior member of the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.  However, since Cardinal Sodano (born 1927) is over the age of 80, he is ineligible to vote in the Conclave and would be replaced within the conclave by the next senior member of the Order of Bishops under the age of eighty,  Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. 

There are a total of 209 Cardinals, of whom 118 are aged under 80.  Of the 118 Cardinal electors as of today, 62 are from Europe, 19 from Latin America, 14 from North America, 11 from Africa, 11 from Asia and 1 from Oceania.   If a Cardinal participates in the Conclave and then turns 80 while in the conclave, he is eligible to continue to vote.