New norms for the pope’s renunciation?
Boni points out that “these are issues that the authoritative canonist knows: In December 2021, we were both speakers at a relevant Italian conference in which the renunciation was also discussed from the point of view of canon law, and which took place in L’Aquila.”
On that occasion, she said, “Father Ghirlanda also admitted the opportunity of canonical legislation for the case of total mental illness of the pope or a pope kept alive with drugs and technological equipment, exactly as proposed by the group I belong to.”
The research project on pope emeritus and the impeded seat proceeds through the discussion of scholars.
Boni remembers that the National Conference of the Italian Association of Italian scholars of canon and ecclesiastical law (ADEC), which will take place in Turin starting on Oct. 5, 2022, will reflect on proposals and other contribution that juridical science can bring to the formation of the laws of the Church.
As regards a possible reform project of the vacant see or the norms of the conclave, Boni stresses that “adjustments are urgently needed concerning Praedicate Evangelium and its effects on the Roman Curia. Unquestionably, the legislation of the election of the pope is attributable to human law and has been rewritten by the canonical legislator over the centuries through numerous interventions, which gradually took into account the needs and emerging problems.”
For this reason, she does not exclude that “Pope Francis, like his predecessors, could launch a reform of the conclave. However, as can be guessed, it is a very sensitive and delicate matter, which requires extreme caution.”
The role of pope emeritus
Among the hypotheses circulated but not confirmed, Boni firmly excludes the possibility that a pope emeritus could participate in the general congregations. A retired pope could also not be involved in the preparation of the conclave, she said.
“The presence of popes emeritus in ‘proximity’ to the conclave or any case in contact with the electors could damage and seriously compromise the freedom of choice on the part of the cardinals; even the mere suspicion of interference should be avoided,” Boni said.
Boni stressed that “guaranteeing such freedom from external pressures, but also only from undue suggestions, has always been a constant concern of the canonical legislator.” Benedict, she noted, confirmed this approach by remaining “rigorously extraneous to the conclave for the election of his successor.”
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The pre-conclave meetings
Another theme is that of a reform of the General Congregations, the pre-conclave meetings. There are rumors of that, too, but nothing is confirmed.
In principle, “the elimination of the General Congregations would imply the exclusion from the crucial confrontations that precede the choice of the new pope of cardinals over 80, who, as is well known, no longer enjoy the right to vote for the successor of Peter.”
She added that “this last norm, introduced by Paul VI with the motu proprio Ingravescentem aetatem of 1970, was, among other reasons, an expression of the desire to cut off from the election of the Roman Pontiff those elderly cardinals, formed before Vatican II — also with the preference expressed to a candidate linked to the pre-conciliar mentality — who could have hindered the implementation of the novelties of this Council.”
However, she opined, “this reason no longer exists. Indeed, many of the cardinals who have passed that age threshold have fully experienced the ‘effervescent’ season of the ’60s and ’70s of the last century and are certainly not conservatives.”
For this, Boni suggests abrogating the norm of non-participation in the conclave and finds it “unjustified” that they can also be excluded from the general congregations.