In a motu proprio released today by the Holy Father (though dated last Friday) several paragraphs are modified or replaced in the apostolic constitution governing conclaves, Universi Dominic gregis (UDG), issued by Pope Bl John Paul II in 1996. Pope Benedict’s decree, Normas nonnullas (NN), makes three significant changes, quoted from the News.va site:
By a modification to paragraph n. 37 of UDG
: Pope Benedict XVI allows for the College of Cardinals to begin the Conclave before fifteen days have passed from the beginning of the period sede vacante, provided that all voting Cardinals are present. The modification also provides that the Conclave must begin no more than twenty days after the beginning of the sede vacante, even if all the electors are not present.
By a modification to paragraph n. 48
: The oath of secrecy is extended to the individuals mentioned in Paragraph 55,2, among whom are the two “trustworthy technicians” who have the task of assisting the competent officers of the College in assuring that no audio-visual equipment for recording or transmitting has been installed by anyone in the areas mentioned, and particularly in the Sistine Chapel itself, where the acts of the election are carried out.
By a modification to the text of paragraph 55,3
: The punishment for any violation of the oath of secrecy is to be excommunication latae sententiae
- (the old text provided for “grave penalties according to the judgment of the future Pope”).
The new norms now allow a conclave to be held earlier than 15 March, provided all the cardinal electors are in Rome. The technicians who will sweep for electronic recording and broadcasting devices are now also required to swear the oath of secrecy, given that they will most likely be privy to the deliberations of the conclave with little restriction. This effectively closes a loophole. In light of this, and perhaps as a possible cautionary slap to the increasingly trouble-prone cardinals, the sentence for a breach of this oath is no longer left to the discretion of the future pope, but is specified as automatic excommunication.
There are no shocks here. The Holy Father is clearly trying to facilitate an expeditious conclave free from outside influence, not least that of the secular media.