The changing face of the Catholic Church

By Julian Routh | Asst. News Editor

Before a new pope can serve the Catholic church in wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s official resignation this evening, there have been recent changes in the rules of the conclave and personnel of the group of cardinals who will elect his successor.

At the time Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11, there were 117 Cardinals under the age of 80 who were intending to vote in the conclave. Since then, the number has dropped to 115, following the resignation of British Cardinal Keith O’Brien on Monday and the weakening health of Indonesian Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja.

When the cardinals arrive in Rome for discussion sessions before the conclave begins, they will decide whether or not O’Brien and Darmaatmadja have legitimate excuses for not voting, according to Rev. Robert Kaslyn, dean of the School of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.

“[The cardinals] have a right to elect the pope, and it’s an obligation as well as a responsibility,” Kaslyn said. “If they ask to be relieved of the obligation, the Cardinals can say ‘your reasons are good enough’ or not.”

In one of his final acts as pope, Benedict announced a change to the rules of the conclave on Monday that will allow the conclave to start earlier. Rather than waiting through the traditional 15-day transition period between popes, the conclave can now start as soon as the Cardinals arrive in Rome.

“He should be holy, loving and compassionate.”

Rev. Nicholas Argentieri
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish

Kaslyn said that because Benedict announced his resignation two weeks prior to the vacancy of the Holy See, the Cardinals had enough time to prepare their trips to Rome. For a majority of the church’s history, the Holy See has been left vacant because of death, but since Benedict resigned, there will be no need to wait 15 days for funeral preparations, Kaslyn said.

A breakdown of how conclave will begin and operate can be found in the sidebar titled “Steps to the Papacy” to the right.

Until the conclave begins, the Catholic community can only speculate in regards to who will take Benedict’s place, and whether or not they should conduct the church in a similar way. Another change that Benedict made to the guidelines for conclave says that any cardinal or other person with access to conclave proceedings is not allowed to speak to anyone about what happens. Anyone found to have revealed details may be excommunicated from the church.

Father Nicholas Argentieri, parochial vicar at the Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pleasant Hills, said he thinks the new pope should embody similar characteristics to Benedict.

“He should be holy, loving and compassionate,” Argentieri said. “Pope Benedict had a lot of good characteristics, so I’d definitely like him to have all those.”