Benedict XVI: a different Motu Proprio – Changes Conclave legislation

Pope Benedict XVI desires that the manner of electing a Pope in a conclave will return to an earlier form. 

The Motu Proprio is called Constitutione apostolica.

John Paul II had changed the legislation to permit "simple election".   Under the legislation of Pope John Paul II, if there were a certain number of ballots, which required a 2/3 majority for an election, that did not in fact produce an election, it was then possible to pass to an election by a simple majority.  Benedict XVI has abolished this and returned to the earlier form.  Now it will require 2/3 majority of electors no matter how many ballots it takes.

So, if the Cardinals become deadlocked and cannot get an election, they are to have a day of prayer and dialogue.  After that, the two Cardinals at the top of the last balloting are the only candidates for election (and they may not vote – they have only a vox passiva) but the number required for a valid election will continue to be 2/3 majority rather than the simple majority established by John Paul II in 1996.

de aliquibus mutationibus in normis
de electione Romani Pontificis


 Constitutione apostolica Universi Dominici gregis, die XXII Februarii anno MCMXCVI promulgata1, Venerabilis Decessor Noster Ioannes Paulus II, nonnullas immutationes induxit in normas canonicas servandas pro electione Romani Pontificis a Paulo VI, felicis recordationis, statutas2.

In numero septuagesimo quinto memoratae Constitutionis statutum est ut exhaustis incassum omnibus suffragationibus, iuxta normas statutas peractis, in quibus ad validam electionem Romani Pontificis duae ex tribus partes suffragiorum omnium praesentium requiruntur, Cardinalis Camerarius Cardinales electores consulat de modo procedendi, atque agetur prout eorum maior absoluta pars decreverit, servata tamen ratione ut electio valida evadat aut maiore absoluta parte suffragiorum aut duo nomina tantum suffragando, quae in superiore scrutinio maiorem suffragiorum partem obtinuerunt, dum hoc quoque in casu sola maior absoluta pars requirebatur.

Post promulgatam vero laudatam Constitutionem, haud paucae petitiones, auctoritate insignes, ad Ioannem Paulum II pervenerunt, sollicitantes ut norma traditione sancita restitueretur, secundum quam Romanus Pontifex valide electus non haberetur nisi duas ex tribus partes suffragiorum Cardinalium electorum praesentium obtinuisset.

Nos igitur, quaestione attente perpensa, statuimus ac decernimus ut, abrogatis normis quae in numero septuagesimo quinto Constitutionis Apostolicae Universi Dominici gregis Ioannis Pauli II praescribuntur, hae substituantur normae quae sequuntur:

Si scrutinia de quibus in numeris septuagesimo secundo, tertio et quarto memoratae Constitutionis incassum reciderint, habeatur unus dies orationi, reflexioni et dialogo dicatus ; in subsequentibus vero suffragationibus, servato ordine in numero septuagesimo quarto eiusdem Constitutionis statuto, vocem passivam habebunt tantummodo duo Cardinales qui in superiore scrutinio maiorem numerum suffragiorum obtinuerunt, nec recedatur a ratione ut etiam in his suffragationibus maioritas qualificata suffragiorum Cardinalium praesentium ad validitatem electionis requiratur. In his autem suffragationibus, duo Cardinales qui vocem passivam habent, voce activa carent.

Hoc documentum cum in L’Osservatore Romano evulgabitur statim vigere incipiet. Haec decernimus et statuimus, contrariis quibusvis non obstantibus.

Datum Romae, apud Sanctum Petrum, die XI mensis Iunii, anno MMVII, Pontificatus nostri tertio.




 1 IOANNES PAULUS II, Constitutio apostolica Universi Dominici gregis, 22 februarii 1996, in AAS 88 (1996) 305-343.

2 PAULUS VI, Constitutio apostolica Romano Pontifici eligendo, 1 octobris 1975: AAS 67 (1975) 605-645.

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  1. Jim McCullough says:

    What does ‘stay silent’ mean?

    Also, two questions on THE m.p.:

    1. Might it specify a period of time before it takes effect–one year to prepare or something like that?

    2. No one seems to have mentioned that the m.p. puts every bishop in the world on notice. Each one has to face the question, will I celebrate the 1962 rite? Seems like a serious question for many to face.

  2. Jim: “Stay silent” reflects my own error in rapidly scanning the MP and rushing to publish. The vox activa… passiva business means that those Cardinals who were at the top of the balloting at the last scrutiny may not vote for themselves and are the two eligible to be elected.

    The document is immediately in effect.

    This MP has nothing on the surface of things to do with the MP for the derestriction of Mass. It is an entirely different subject and document.

  3. Tim Ferguson says:

    I believe Berolinensis is correct – the two top candidates do not lose voting rights, but, apparently, only they have “passive voice,” e.g. electability.

    While not the motu proprio we were all expecting, this is an important piece of legislation that solves a potential crisis in papal elections. At the time of the last election, there were speculations (which fortunately turned out to be unwarranted) that the “liberal” wing would stall the election for three days simply in order to kick the new provisions of Universi Dominici gregis into effect and proceed with a simple majority vote. Thus, a Cardinal who did not have the backing of a 2/3 majority could simply stall things until a simple majority could elect him. This is a very good motu proprio.

  4. I have made an adjustment to the main entry.

  5. Tim: Yes, I agree. This is excellent legislation. At the time of the last conclave, we (of the network talking heads and Vaticanisti) were wondering about that point of “stalling”.

    Think also about the larger context of this MP.  Anything that has to do with an election also has to do with the Petrine ministry, if not directly then indirectly.  This Pope molted off the title “Patriarch of the West”, and banished (at least for now I hope*) the triregno from his coat-of-arms.  He engaged orthodox leaders so as to present them with an open door while affirming the primacy of Peter’s role in the whole apostolic succession.  Now he removes a potential ambiguity from the papal election process.

    Image from the conclave: balls used to define offices

    * By which I mean, I hope that its absence is only temporary and that future Popes will use it again.

  6. Tim Ferguson says:

    And again, my bad – I missed the second statement, that the two “top tier” Cardinals “voce activa carent” – they do, in fact, lose their right to vote in those last scrutinies.

    What remains to be seen, however, is what happens if the College deadlocks, and neither of the final two are able to obtain a 2/3 majority. I suppose then that #75 of UDG will then be in effect, and the majority of Cardinals will be able to determine the method of proceeding.

  7. Prof. Basto says:

    The Pope forgot to direct that the Cardinals’ oath be changed.

    In the past century, whenever a change was introduced, care was ALWAYS taken to alter the words of the oath. Jonh XXIII, for instance, only made minor changes, also by Motu Proprio, to the electoral legislation promulgated by Pius XII, and even so the entire text of the Constitution, with the changes, was re-published, and the oath mentioned both the laws issued by Pius and John. Pope Benedict did not mention a change in the oath.

    So the cardinals will continue to swear that they will faithfully and fully observe the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Jonh Paul II on February 22nd, 1996, that begins with the words Universi Dominici Gregis, and this oath will contain no mention of this new legislation. Does that induce any canonical risk to the observance of the new rules?

    Perhaps the Pope hasn’t noticed, and perhaps he should be warned by experts to change the formula of the oath.

  8. Prof. Basto: A good point.

  9. Tim: But apparently, they will not be able to establish that a simple majority is possible, right?

  10. Raymundus says:

    So, Fr. Z., is this the MP that your friend was speaking of as being in print a few days ago?

  11. Raymundus: I don’t believe so, no.

  12. Prof. Basto says:

    This coment has two parts


    Is it only my impression or this Motu Proprio (perhaps inadvertently) formalizes a rule to the effect that ONLY CARDINALS can receive votes for Pope?

    It takes for granted that, in the event of a deadlock, the two people with the highest number of votes will necessarily be Cardinals, and then states that only those two Cardinals will have “passive voice” in the election, i.e., the right of being voted for (vocem passivam habebunt tantummodo duo Cardinales qui in superiore scrutinio maiorem numerum suffragiorum obtinuerunt).

    Has this the indirect effect of meaning that (since it is supposed that the two people with the greatest number of votes will be necessarily Cardinals), it is the “mens legis” that only Cardinals can be voted for?



    Also, regarding my previous question/comment on the matter of the oath, see Salvador Miranda’s website “Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church”. It confirms that, in the past, care was taken to always change the oath when the electoral law was changed.

    In a way, strictly speaking, unless the oath be changed, Cardinals will either faithfully observe the statutes in force of the Church or they will observe the letter of the oath they are presenly required also by law to take on the Gospels (“Nos omnes et singuli in hac electione Summi Pontificis versantes Cardinales electores promittimus, vovemus et iuramus inviolate et ad unguem Nos esse fideliter et diligenter observaturos OMNIA QUAE CONTINENTUR in Constitutione Apostolica Summi Pontificis Ioannis Pauli II, quae a verbis « Universi Dominici Gregis » incipit, data die xxii mensis Februarii anno MCMXCVI…”) (my emphasis – omnia quae continentur, means “everything that is contained”).

    JUST LIKE THE POPE WAS PETITIONED TO RESTORE THE TRADITIONAL TWO THIRDS RULE, I REALLY THINK HE SHOULD BE PETITIONED TO INTRODUCE A LAW TO CHANGE THE OATH. Otherwise, the day could come – God forbid – when some Cardinal could introduce doubt regarding what norm is to be followed, the one required by the oath or the most recent one, and, since there will be no Roman Pontiff at the time to settle the question, this doubt would be so explosive as to induce a new Western Schism. God forbid. To me, it is clear that the new MP is valid and must be followed, but someone wishing to hijack the Conclave could well create turmoil and establish a faction saying: hey, what we must follow is the oath we have taken on the Holy Gospels, and this oath not only does not mention the legislation of Benedict XVI, but it says that we will follow everything that is contained in Jonh Paul’s Constitution.

    Someone needs to adress that potential loophole. The Church has had enough problems with papal elections in the past.

  13. Berolinensis says:

    Prof. Basto: While not a canonist myself, I don’t think this risk exists. After all, the Holy Father explicitly orders no. 75 of Pope John Paul’s Constitution to be abrogated and SUBSTITUTED by the norms he supplies in the subsequent paragraph. I would think this means that the Constitution as issued by Pope John Paul does not exist any more in the original form, but only as amended by Pope Benedict. Therefore, the prescribed oath would refer to the Constitution of Pope John Paul with the new # 75.

  14. Cerimoniere says:

    A further query as to the interpretation of this text, which also addresses Prof. Basto’s first issue above.

    In more than one clerical institute with which I am familiar, having “passive voice” means that a member has the right to speak only and not to vote, and “active voice” means that he has the right both to speak and to vote. Typically, there is a stage that younger members of a community go through, where they have passive voice in chapter for a number of years before attaining active voice.

    It seems that everyone is construing “passive voice” here as meaning “having the right to be elected but not to vote.” Is it possible that it simply means that the two cardinals who had the most votes on the last ballot lose their voting rights but not their speaking rights? If so, this would effectively operate to restore the purpose of the two-thirds plus one rule, without limiting the papabili to those two cardinals.

  15. Prof. Basto says:


    That is my interpretation too… In law, we have no doubt, lex posterior derrogat priori.

    The problem is the oath. It might create an autonomous canonical obligation. And the oath refers to “everything that is contained” in a dated document. The document issued on Feb. 22nd 1996. The example of the legislation by Jonh XXIII is the most relevant because, in that case too, as in the present one, the codified corpus of electoral norms remained being the one issued by Pius XII. Jonh XXIII only introduced changes in the body of the Pian legislation. And, even so, care was taken to change the oath.

    The important factor here is the avoidance of doubt, and, most importanly, the avoidance of room for coups.

    Bear in mind that this election takes place when there is no supreme ecclesiastical authority, no one to authoritatively settle doubts. That’s why the laws pertaining to the election of the Roman Pontiff is always written in such a careful language, often with the same precept repeated in more than one place, and supported by oaths, etc, with a rigorous promulgation clause that reppeals everithing to the contrary and enacts the changes notwithstanding any precept even if worthy of special mention, etc. Now, this Constitution by Benedict XVI failed to take the same precaution as previous enactments changing the norms of this election; and the example of the Motu Proprio by Jonh XXIII is very pertinent, because he too only made minor changes to the rules issued by Pius XII, and still took care to change the oath, order that the whole thing be re-printed, etc.

  16. Prof. Basto says:

    It seems to me, Cerimoniere, that in Papal elections, Cardinals only speak during the days of reflection.

    I´m reading “passive voice” and “active voice” here in the way those expressions are usually used in the public law of several nations: passive voice, the right to be elected; active voice, the right to vote.

    And the Constitution states that, at that stage of the deadlock, only (tantummodo) the two Cardinals shall have passive voice. Therefore, they not only will loose active voice, but will be the only ones with passive voice. In other words, a runoff.

  17. Cerimoniere says:

    I see, Professor, thank you for that. I see that the phrases are used in that sense in the constitutions of various institutes concerning elections, differently from the sense that I mentioned, which relates to the transaction of other business in the governing body of an institute.

    So, considering your point about the eligibility of non-Cardinals, I wonder if the text means that they are the only two persons with passive voice at that stage, or the only two cardinals? So, in the unlikely event that the third-placed candidate was a cardinal, and one of the first two was not, perhaps there would be three eligible candidates still, according to the letter of this document?

    As to when Cardinals speak during the conclave, perhaps that is true now. I seem to recall reading anecdotal accounts of some past conclaves in which there has been discussion before balloting, or indeed afterwards, but perhaps that is no longer permitted.

  18. Berolinensis says:

    Prof. Basto, I agree for clarity’s sake it would be better to also amend the oath. However, not only lex posterior derogat anteriori, but also the content of the oath is changed. For even if the oath refers to “everything that is contained” in a dated document (as published by Pope John Paul), if a point of that document is abrogated and substituted, then even that dated document has the new, amended content, not the one it had on its publication, which simply ceases to exist. Thus, objectively the oath does refer to the Constitution as amended by Pope Benedict. I don’t think this can reasonably doubted. It is only a matter of clarification.

    An aside: does anyone else think the Latin of this MP is poor? “maioritas”? “suffragatio”? Do these words even exist? If so, they are what we in German call “kitchen Latin”. I prefer the word of the original Constitution, “maior pars” and “scrutinium”.

  19. This is in from VIS (my emphases):



    VATICAN CITY, JUN 26, 2007 (VIS) – Made public today was a “Motu Proprio,” written in Latin, with which the Holy Father Benedict XVI restores the traditional norm concerning the majority required for the election of the Supreme Pontiff. According to this norm, in order for the election of a new Pope to be considered valid it is always necessary to reach a majority of two thirds of the cardinals present.


      With this document, Benedict XVI substitutes the norm established by John Paul II who, in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici gregis,” laid down that the valid quorum for electing a new Pope was initially two thirds but that, after three days of voting without an election, there would be a day dedicated to reflection and prayer, without voting. Thereafter, voting would resume for seven additional ballots, another pause for reflection, another seven ballots, another pause and yet another seven ballots. After which an absolute majority was to decide how to proceed, either for a vote by absolute majority or with balloting between two candidates. This was to happen only in the event that the cardinals arrived at the 33rd or 34th ballot without a positive result.

  20. Berolinensis says:

    I shudder to say it, but in view of the poor wording of the MP (see above) I thínk it is possible that no one thought about the implication of employing the word “Cardinales”. The old # 75, when contemplating the run-off vote, used the word “nomina”.

  21. Berolinensis: According to the prestigious Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary

    suffrāgātÄ­o  (subf- ), ōnis, f. [suffragor] ,

          I. a voting for one or in one’s favor, interest, favor, support, suffrage (class.)

  22. About maioritas, in Blaise/Chirat I found:

    As you could have guessed, however, along with anyone who knows something about Latin, this would have nothing to do with a number of a quorum of voters.

  23. “and banished (at least for now I hope) the triregno from his coat-of-arms”

    Dear Fr.,

    You don’t like the triregno?

  24. Lazarus: You misunderstand – I very much like the triregno on the papal stemma. I hope it is only “for now” that it is banished.

  25. On the following above: “In more than one clerical institute with which I am familiar, having “passive voice” means that a member has the right to speak only and not to vote, and “active voice” means that he has the right both to speak and to vote. Typically, there is a stage that younger members of a community go through, where they have passive voice in chapter for a number of years before attaining active voice.”

    In my religious order (the Order of Preachers) this is NOT how those terms are used. Active voice means the right to speak and vote in a chapter. It is the first “voice” received. Later one gets “passive voice,” the right to be elected. So in practice having passive voice normally presupposes active voice. Those without active voice, e.g., simply professed, are allowed to speak at a chapter, but that is a curtesy (to which they have no right), it is not voice.

    Obviously “speaking” or “voting” is an active; getting elected is “passive.” I believe that this is the normal usage, and typical of other institutes. Tim?

  26. According to a canon lawyer I asked, when the Holy Father issues a motuproprio it has the force of canon law and if something is abrogated it is abrogated.He does not have to reissue theentire constitution.The consitution is changed due to the motuproprio.The constituion of the USA has amendments rescinding parts of the constition.But when the states amend the constition,the entire document is not reissued.

  27. Tim Ferguson says:

    It is true that canonically, active voice in an election means the ability to cast a ballot and passive voice means the ability to be elected. This is a fairly common concept in religious institutes where, for example all members of a priory may have “active voice” and all members of the order, even those not at the priory, may have “passive voice,” i.e. the ability to be elected to office. (see any major commentary on canons 498 and 697 of the current Latin Code).

    The fact alone that the two leading Cardinals in the motu proprio have passive voice does not indicate that they do not also have active voice, but since the second line states that they lose active voice, the issue is thus clarified. It makes sense, too, since in a papal election, the Cardinals are forbidden to vote for themselves.

  28. Michael E. Lawrence says:

    I wonder about the runoff aspect to these changes. It seems like it prohibits a compromise candidate, which might be needed to break a seemingly endless deadlock.

  29. Prof. Basto says:

    But then, what is the interpretation here of the use of the expression “Cardinals” when referring to those with the greatest number of votes? There are three possibilities:

    1) The law said “Cardinals” because Cardinals are the ones that usually get votes and get elected, but it did not mean to alter the legal possibility of other people, not being Cardinals, receiving valid votes and even being elected.

    2) The law said “Cardinals” because the “mens legis” is that the remote possibility of a non Cardinal receiving votes is a thing of the past that ought to be set asside, and the implicit wish of the legislator is that from now on only Cardinals can receive valid votes (i.e. only Cardinals have a passive voice), and therefore only one of the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church can, from now on, be elected, any law or custom of the Church to the contrary being reppealled.

    In that context, the norm of Universi Dominici Gregis section 90, pertaining to the possibility of the elected person residing outside of the Vatican, would have its application limited to Cardinals not take part in the Conclave (either because the elected is a Cardinal but not a Cardinal-elector or because he is a Cardinal-elector who didn´t take part in the Conclave due to infirmity or some other cause);

    3) The law said “Cardinals” not because it wanted to restrict the right of being elected only to Cardinals, but because it wanted to restrict the right of taking part in the runoff only to Cardinals. Thus, even in a situation where, say, the majority requrired for election were 67 out of 100 electors, and there was, in the 33rd ballot, a Cardinal with 50 votes, a non-Cardinal with 30 and a Cardinal with 20, the runoff to solve the deadlock would take place between the Cardinal that received 50 votes and the Cardinal that received 20, since, when it comes to the runoff, non-Cardinals can no longer participate.

    So, WHAT IS THE CORRECT INTERPRETATION? I know, it is kind of a Bizantine question, because it is rumored that only Cardinals get votes nowadays, and we know that for centuries only Cardinals have been elected, but even still, the rumor that Arcbishop Montini received votes in the conclave of 1958 comes to mind.

  30. I know that it has nothing to do with the post above, but I need a few good Catholic bloggers for my blog. If anyone would be so charitable as to contribute to it please say so. Fr., I’ve always loved everything I’ve seen on your posts, but I know that you are busy so I won’t bother asking you unless you you insist to help me.(If you were going to write on another blog I think you would have already done so for Rorate-Caeli.

  31. Lazarus: First hint for your blog: don’t derail thread topics by introducing things that have nothing to do with the entry. All that does is send people down the rabbit hole. It is also nice to ask when you want to self-advertise.

  32. Berolinensis says:

    Father, I’m not entirely sure whether you agree with me or not concerning the quality of the Latin? My “Georges” (the legendary Latin German “concise dictionary” of two tomes of more than 3500 columns each) doesn’t know “majoritas” at all (the entry you copied from Blaise/Chirat seems to only quote medieval authors?), and for “suffragatio” it only gives “recommendation for an office”. So in any case I stand by my former assessment that the 1996 Constitution contains the better wording.

    Prof. Basto: I am very much inlined to your first possibility, i.e. no change was intended. After all, as you say, it is absolutely customary to only vote for Cardinals. Pius XII, in his Constitution Vacantis Apostolicæ Sedis, prescribed the traditional ballot, on which was printed “Eligo in Summum Pontificem Reverendissimum Dominum meum D. Cardinalem“. However, interestingly enough, from Pope Paul VI’s Romano Pontifici Eligendo onwards, and confirmed in Pope John Paul’s Consitution, the ballot just reads “Eligo in Summum Pontificem”, and it is expressly enjoined that the lower half has to remain empty (“in parte vero inferiore a medio liberum sit spatium, ubi electi nomen inscribatur”).
    Since it is absolute consensus that any orthodox sane male Catholic can be elected (which was explicitly recognized in anterior Constitutions up to John XXIII), such an incisve and innovative measure as to reduce the electibility in the “run-off” elections to Cardinals would have to be clearly stated. It cannot be inferred from the wording of this Motu Proprio, I think.

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