Unwelcome Guests at Rome (and Canterbury)?


The events surrounding the papal Conclave and the inauguration of Pope Francis have raised a number of canon and secular law issues concerning attendance and participation.  Some of these were clarified in Pope Benedict’s Normas Nonnullas, issued on 22 February 2013, which introduced changes into Universi Dominici Gregis and these made it clear that

“No Cardinal elector can be excluded from active or passive voice in the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for any reason or pretext, with due regard for the provisions of Nos. 40 and 75 of this Constitution, [37]”.

[para. 40 UDG concerns Cardinal electors who refuse or are unable to take part in the election process; para. 75 UDG, which was amended by Normas Nonnullas, relates to the balloting process].

Prior to the Conclave, CNN reported that the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, had queried the presence of 12 cardinals in view of “their actions and/or public comment about child sex abuse and cover up in the church”.  The groups said that its accusations were based on media reports, legal filings and victims’ statements.  However, it is clear from UDG 33 and 38, that cardinals under 80 have a right and a duty to attend the Conclave, and none of this group refused to attend.  It is possible to plead an impediment against participation but this must be recognized by the cardinal electors.

At the seventh General Congregation, the cardinals considered UDG 38 and noted

“In this case there are two absences: Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, S.J., archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, Indonesia, for health reasons and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, ex-archbishop of Edinburgh, Scotland, for personal reasons. The College voted to accept the absences for the reasons presented.”

Ed Peters has explored the hypothetical situation of whether an excommunicated cardinal could be allowed to participate in a papal conclave.  Although not applicable in the present situation, readers are recommended to follow his arguments which lead to the conclusion

“since there is no pope to judge a cardinal during a conclave . . . . . a cardinal elector cannot fall under a ferendae sententiae excommunication during a papal conclave.


“an elector under ferendae sententiae excommunication at the time of sede vacante could . . . . . be barred from entering a conclave and, even if he were admitted, could not vote”.; and

“any elector under a latae sententiae excommunication could plead such an impediment and be excused attending, but he could not be barred from entering on those grounds”.

As with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the presence of Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, raised concerns but as Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith explained on this earlier occasion, banning him would drag the Vatican into a diplomatic minefield.  Although subject to an EU-wide travel ban, the 1929 Lateran Treaty established a “diplomatic corridor” between the Vatican and the rest of the world, and thus he was again able to travel to the Vatican.  Fr Lucie-Smith noted that it was possible to place Mugabe under interdict for his many sins and misdemeanours, but if one started with Mugabe, where would one finish?

On this occasion, perhaps more controversy was caused particularly in the United States by Vice President Joe Biden and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi receiving communion during the Mass marking the installation of Pope Francis.  Some church leaders argue that Catholic politicians who break with church teaching on abortion should be denied the sacraments, and when archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2007, Pope Francis is reported to have opposed giving communion to politicians who supported abortion rights.  Comment on the application of Canons 915, 916 and 1339 is to be found here and here.

China was not represented on account of the presence of the Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and his wife Chow Mei-ching.  Taiwan, (officially “the Republic of China”), has long maintained friendly ties to the Vatican.  Confusingly, the European Union sent its three Presidents: Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council;  Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission; and  Martin Schulz, President
of the European Parliament.


Comparison of the events in Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March with those in St Peters’ Square three days earlier is difficult.  The sequence of events leading to the Mass inaugurating the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome and to the Installation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the proceedings themselves were quite different.  With his Supreme Authority enshrined in Canon Law, the decisions made by Pope Francis himself will determine the future direction of the Roman Catholic Church, although early indications suggest that collegiality with the bishops will be more prominent under his papacy.

By contrast, in a Channel 4 interview Archbishop Justin noted that in contrast to the Catholic Church, Lambeth had “influence without authority”.  This is particularly evident in the relation to the Anglican Communion, held together by “bonds of affection” rather than an universal canon law or even the ill-fated “Anglican Covenant”.

As a consequence, there were no open disagreements although there were reports of a behind the scenes struggle over whether orthodox Primates from the Global South would meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury following his installation, given their opposition to the views of the Episcopal Church in the US and Canada.

One of Archbishop Welby’s first official acts was the appointment of Canon David Porter as Director of Reconciliation to “enable the Church to make a powerful contribution to transforming the often violent conflicts which overshadow the lives of so many people in the world.”

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  1. Pingback: Religion and Law round up – 24th March | Law & Religion UK

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