Vatican Diary / "I follow what the cardinals asked"The strictures of the pre-conclave on Francis's governance. Agreements connected to the election of a pope are illicit and invalid. But the actual practice comes very close
by Sandro Magister
This is established by the apostolic constitution "Universi Dominici Gregis," which regulates the election of the pope, issued by Saint John Paul II in 1996 and still in effect.
Historically "stipulations" or "electoral conditions" are defined as agreements among the cardinals gathered in conclave that aim to bind the future pontiff to certain acts that could restrict his freedom of action.
The first stipulation recorded in history seems to have been that of 1352 at the council of Avignon that saw the election of Innocent VI, who however declared it to be invalid.
And in effect a number of popes, after their election, have renounced the pacts stipulated with their former fellow cardinals.
Pacts that sometimes required the one elected to enact provisions for the actual good of the Church, but in other cases responded to personal or group interests. So that finally it was decided that they had to be formally prohibited.
The prohibition went into effect with the rules for conclaves promulgated by another canonized pope, Pius X, in the 1904 apostolic constitution "Vacante Sede Apostolica" that stated:
"We likewise prohibit that the cardinals, before proceeding with the election, should agree to stipulations or establish anything by common consensus, pledging to observe them if they are elevated to the pontificate. Such things, if they should take place 'de facto,' even under oath, we declare to be null and void."
This disposition - which however does not provide any penalty for those who violate it, as long as the new pope has full freedom with respect to these accords - has been reiterated by all the subsequent documents on the conclave, up to the one that, as we have seen, was issued by pope Karol Wojtyla.
Any stipulations agreed upon before or during a conclave are therefore not only formally prohibited as illicit, but are also practically inefficacious, because the one elected would not be bound to respect them even if he had agreed upon them.
In the accounts of recent decades it is nonetheless recalled that at the conclave of 1958 some cardinals of the Roman curia are alleged to have guaranteed that, in case of election, Venice patriarch Angelo Roncalli would choose as his secretary of state Monsignor Domenico Tardini. And this is what happened on the very evening of the election of John XXIII.
In the subsequent conclave of 1963 the central European cardinals are said to have backed the candidacy of Milan cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini with an "electoral condition" that included the continuation of the Council.
It is however recounted that in 1978 Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, if elected pope, would have to take into consideration the proposal to guarantee the position of secretary of state for one of the competing candidates, Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. While - also as the story is told - Venice patriarch Albino Luciani would be elected pope, as in fact took place, with the concomitant certainty that the dreaded Benelli would not be appointed secretary.
In the conclave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio it does not appear that there were any formal or sworn agreements among the cardinals.
Nonetheless Pope Francis has repeatedly professed himself to be bound by certain guidelines presented by the cardinals in meetings before the conclave.
He reiterated this recently in a more extensive manner than usual in the June 29 interview given to Franca Giansoldati of "Il Messaggero.".
In it he said:
"On the program [of ecclesiastical governance] I follow what the cardinals asked during the general congregations before the conclave. I go in that direction. The council of eight cardinals, an external organism, emerged from there. It was requested to help in reforming the curia. This moreover is not easy because there is a step forward but then it emerges that this or that must be done, and if before there was one dicastery there then become four. My decisions are the fruit of the pre-conclave meetings. I have done nothing alone."
To the question of whether he had followed a "democratic approach" in this, the pope responded:
"They have been the decisions of the cardinals. I do not know if it is a democratic approach, I would call it more synodal, even if the word is not appropriate for the cardinals.”
This is what pope Bergoglio has said. Judging by the appearances, there has been no condition or stipulation or call it what you will. But in essence the results have been close.
And the council of eight cardinals that Francis created in obedience to this mandate has just met at the Vatican.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.