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Theological Notebook: Pope Benedict XVI Trumps Pope John Paul II On Papal Elections

Well, good. John Paul II changed papal election rules in 1996 to allow a switch to a simple majority being required for election instead of a two-thirds majority if the conclave had failed to elect a Pope after 13 days. This was seen by ecclesiologists – those who study the nature and work of the Church – as a change capable of being abused. We realized that any simple majority who could not persuade a two-thirds majority to vote for their candidate could just stonewall the opposition until the rules changed on the thirteenth day. For this reason the last ten years has seen a great deal of criticism of the rule change. In that time, there has been only one papal election, that of the current Pope, Benedict XVI, where this "loophole" ended up not being a factor, owing to his quick election, but the potential for abuse has nevertheless been criticized.

In previous papal elections, strong candidates who nevertheless could not gain the two-thirds majority needed were set aside in favour of "compromise" candidates who were able to gain such consensus. Such was the papal conclave of 1958, in which the strong contenders were set aside in favour of the unlikely Angelo Roncali of Venice, who became Pope John XXIII and convened the Second Vatican Council – the most significant religious and cultural event of the 20th century. With a precident like that, Benedict XVI's return of the rules of papal election to the requirement of a two-thirds consensus is a particularly welcome sign of unity within the Church.
Pope says two-thirds majority always needed to elect pope
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has stipulated that a two-thirds majority always is required to elect a new pope, undoing a more flexible procedure introduced by Pope John Paul II.

In a one-page document released June 26, the pope said the two-thirds-majority rule cannot be set aside even when cardinal-electors are at an impasse.

Instead, the pope instructed that if the cardinals are deadlocked after 13 days, runoff ballots between the two leading candidates will be held. A papal election will continue to require a majority of two-thirds of the cardinals present.

In 1996, Pope John Paul introduced a change in the conclave procedure that allowed cardinal-electors to move to a simple majority after 13 days, when 33 or 34 ballots had been held.

Pope Benedict said there had been significant requests for a return to the old rules, under which a two-thirds majority was always required.

The pope effected the change by replacing two paragraphs of his predecessor's apostolic constitution, "Universi Dominici Gregis" ("The Lord's Whole Flock"), a document that defined conclave procedures.

Under Pope Benedict's new rule, if a conclave has not elected a pope after 13 days, the cardinals will pause for a day of prayer, reflection and dialogue, then move to a runoff election between the two cardinals who had obtained the most votes on the previous ballot.

The two leading cardinals would not vote in the runoff ballots, though they would remain in the Sistine Chapel, where conclaves are held.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the pope's modification "removes the option of moving to a simple majority, 50 percent plus one." It also removes the option of continuing to seek a two-thirds majority on an open ballot, he said.

"This is a response to requests that the one elected always be elected with an ample consensus," Father Lombardi said.

The pope's action also eliminates the possibility that a conclave stalemated between two strong candidates could turn to a compromise choice after the 13th day.*

Most experts believe the chance of a conclave lasting that long in modern times is very small. Over the last century, no conclave has lasted more than five days.

Pope Benedict was elected in 2005 on the second day of the conclave, after only three ballots.

Pope Benedict's document, an apostolic letter issued only in Latin, was signed June 11.
* I don't know what this sentence in the news story means: I think perhaps it is miswritten, and means to express that the return to the pre-John Paul II rule once again encourages stalemated conclaves to seek a compromise candidate.
Tags: benedict xvi, conclave, ecclesiology, john paul ii, papacy, theological notebook
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