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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cardinal Electors of the Pope

Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (Harvard University Press, 1996). He was editor in chief of America from 1998-2005.

Who are the cardinal electors?

All cardinals under 80 years of age when the pope dies have the right to vote for the next pope. As of December 18, 2012, there are 119 cardinal electors, of whom 67 were appointed by Benedict and the rest by John Paul II. In 2013, 10 cardinals will turn 80 years of age. Cardinals turning 80 in 2013 include Cardinals Javier Lozano Barragan (January 26), Lubomyr Husar (February 26), Walter Kasper (March 5), Severino Poletto (March 18), Juan Sandoval Iniguez (March 28), Godfried Danneels (June 4), Francisco J. Errazuriz Ossa (September 5), Raffaele Farina (September 24), Geraldo Majella Agnelo (October 19), and Joachim Meisner (December 25).

The average age of the electors is 72 years of age. About 52% are from Europe–23% from Italy; 18% from the rest of Western Europe; 10% from Eastern Europe. About 35% are from the Third world. Asia has 9.2%; Africa 9.2%; Latin America 17%. The United States has 9.2% (not counting Cardinal Husar, who gave up his U.S. citizenship after returning to Ukraine), second only to Italy; Canada 2.5%. Curial cardinals make up about 35% of the electors, with an additional 10% being former Vatican officials who now head dioceses.

The maximum number of cardinals was set at 70 by Sixtus V in 1586. John XXIII ignored this limit, and the college grew to over 80 cardinals. In 1970 Paul VI reformed the college of cardinals by increasing the number of electors to 120, not counting those 80 years of age and over who were excluded as electors. John Paul II exceeded this limit by two in 1998 and by 15 in 2001 and 2003. Benedict returned to the legal limit of 120, until February 2012 when he raised it to 124. In November 2012, he returned to 120.

How has Benedict XVI changed the makeup of the college of cardinals?

Popes tend to make only minor adjustments in the geographical distribution of cardinals, but since the total number of cardinals is small, a couple of cardinals here or there make a difference. John Paul increased the number of Eastern European cardinals and decreased the number of Italian cardinals. Benedict has increased the percentage of Italian cardinals in the conclave and reduced the percentage of cardinals from the Third World.
Has the pope always been elected by the cardinals?
Although the college of cardinals elects the pope today, this was not the rule until the 11th century. Some early popes (including perhaps St. Peter) appointed their successors. Although appointing one’s successor was provided for by the Roman Synod of 499 cited above, this method fell out of favor when Felix IV (526-530) and Boniface II (530-532) tried to impose controversial candidates as their successors.

In the early church, popes were usually chosen by the clergy and people of Rome in the same way that bishops in other dioceses were elected. The one elected was then ordained by the bishops of the surrounding towns. This democratic process worked well when the church was small and united. But disagreements led to factions who fought over the papacy. As early as 217 the Christians of Rome were so divided over an election that fighting broke out. Pagan soldiers broke up the fight and exiled both men to the Sardinian tin mines. In 366, mobs and hired thugs from opposing factions invaded churches and killed opponents by the hundreds. Honorius (393-423) was the first Roman emperor to settle a disputed election by backing Boniface over Eulalius. Nobles, emperors and kings continued interfering in papal elections as the church became rich and powerful.

The papal electors were limited to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome by the Roman synod of 499 (although in some elections some of the laity still participated until the 8th century). This followed the pattern of other dioceses where the clergy elected the bishop. The man elected pope was normally a priest or deacon. No bishop was elected pope until 891 (Formosus), because it was considered improper for a bishop to leave the diocese for which he had originally been ordained a bishop. A bishop was considered “married” to his diocese, and moving to another diocese was comparable to adultery.

As early as 769, Pope Stephen III (768-772) convened a synod that restricted the electors to the cardinal priests and deacons. This rule was revoked and the vote was returned to the people and clergy of Rome by the Roman Constitution of 824. It also required the approval of the Western Emperor, although this requirement was eliminated by Marinus I (882-884). The Roman synod of 898 once again limited the vote to the clergy, who were to do it in the presence of the senate and people of Rome.

Nicholas II (1059-61) proposed a system whereby the cardinal bishops would meet to nominate a candidate and then invite in the cardinal priests to vote on him. Alexander III modified this system by including all the cardinals in the election process from the beginning. Since 1179, only cardinals have voted for the pope except for the election in 1417 that ended the Western Schism. In this election, 30 representatives chosen from the Council of Constance joined the 23 cardinals (5 from the Roman line and 18 from the Pisa line) in electing the new pope.

The cardinals are divided into three orders or categories: cardinal deacons, cardinal priests and cardinal bishops. Originally, the cardinal priests were the pastors of major churches in Rome, and the cardinal deacons were important administrators in the diocese, often of what we would now call charities or social services. The cardinal bishops were the bishops of the six dioceses surrounding Rome. In the 11th century popes began appointing prelates in distant lands as cardinals. Things got very complicated when some bishops were named cardinal priests and deacons, and some priests were named cardinal deacons or bishops. (There were even some cardinals who received tonsure but were not deacons, priests or bishops). John XXIII decreed that all the cardinals should be bishops, although he kept the three orders. Some priests who were made cardinals after the age of 80, like Avery Dulles, have been exempted from becoming bishops.

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