Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Word to the Wise

All you Catholics out there better avoid Pope pools....

In fact, the earliest reference we have found to wagering on the death of a famous figure comes from the Vatican. On March 21, 1591, the newly minted Pope Gregory XIV, in his Papal Bull "Cogit nos" forbade under pain of excommunication all wagering on the duration of the pontificate, i.e., when the Pope would die, as well as on the creation of new cardinals and the election of a new pope. Such wagering had reached epidemic proportions in the Curia Romana, the body of congregations, offices and permanent commissions that assist the pope in the government and administration of the Church.

Noted one writer, "Some persons (who were) engaged in that illicit and indecent wagering, in order to save themselves from loss, sometimes disturbed the elections; and others, to increase their chance of winning, did not blush to circulate calumnies against worthy men who were thought likely to be raised to the purple." (The Chevalier Artaud De Montor in The Lives and Times of the Popes, 1911). And surely Gregory didn't want people trying to arrange the end of his pontificate to score some extra lire...

Betting on cardinals and popes continues to this day; in January 2001, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power was offering odds of 1000-1 against Sinead O'Connor succeeding Pope John Paul II.

This sort of thing is an automatic excommunication -- which means that whether or not anybody else knows about it, you're still excommunicated. Even if you're a cardinal, you'll have to confess the matter to somebody else in the hierarchy (like the next pope) if you ever want to take Communion validly again.

But the big excommunication fiesta is the Conclave itself. Yes, folks, over the years the hierarchy has included some men behaving badly. Canon law, therefore, includes some very hefty penalties for those with the wrong attitude toward their sacred voting duties.

Simony (selling the papal position) means excommunication. Private or public promises about the Pope's successor made during his lifetime? Excommunication. Making pacts, agreements or promises at the Conclave itself? Excommunication. (And nobody is to hold himself bound by such a promise, anyway, so how are you going to trust someone to vote a certain way or do certain things as Pope?) Transmitting the veto, wish or demand of any civil power or layperson to the Conclave or members thereof? You guessed it -- excommunication. Each voter is strictly bound to choose with absolute freedom. :)

There are various penalties, including excommunication, for the cardinals if they break secrecy during the election. They are also forbidden to read newspapers, chat on the telephone, or read the Internet, lest they be influenced by outside opinion. (This is similar to being on a jury.) Finally, they are bound not to reveal anything much about the election even after it's over. Under pain of...excommunication.

The cardinals are allowed to take two (male) attendants with them to the Vatican (2 clerics, 2 laymen, or a a cleric and a layman -- and an extra guy for frail and infirm cardinals). A few Vatican secretaries and functionaries (including 2 doctors and a surgeon) are also allowed in. These folks are also bound by the oath of secrecy and the various penalties attached. However, since the cardinals and secretaries are bound not to tell the attendants anything that happens in the election, they hopefully don't have much to blab about anyway. And of course, if they or the cardinals bring in newspapers or other news sources...excommunication!

They can have snail mail letters. As long as they let both incoming and outgoing ones be read by security. :) Email is out, thanks to the obvious ease of abuse.

Each time it's time to vote, a bell will ring three times. The cardinals in attendance must be there to vote by the third ring, or be excommunicated. When they put their ballot (with their candidate's name written in disguised handwriting) onto a paten and slide it into a chalice (both usually used for the Blessed Sacrament, and thus reinforcing the sacred nature of the occasion), each cardinal must declare, "I call to witness Jesus Christ, who will judge me, that I am electing the one whom I judge according to God should be elected."

None of these excommunications can be removed by a cardinal or consortium of cardinals; only the new Pope can do it. Being excommunicated doesn't mean a cardinal doesn't get to vote, though. Any cardinal who's not too old, shows up on time, hasn't resigned, and hasn't been deposed can vote. In fact, even if a cardinal arrives late, he must still be allowed to take the oath and vote, as long as a new pope hasn't been elected yet. Cardinals have a lot of rights; that's why they must be chosen wisely by the previous popes.

Violation of secrecy and enclosure, or even simony, also doesn't invalidate the election. (None of this anti-pope stuff, thank you. We had too many years of that.) But the Swiss Guards are pretty good at security, after hundreds of years of practice; so I doubt anybody will be liveblogging the Conclave. Not without finding an AK stuck up their schnozzes, anyway.

You can learn more about the Conclave and election procedures on EWTN's Papal Interregnum page.


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