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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Assumption to the Papal Throne

by Catherine Frakas 24 Jul 2001

Assumption to the Papal Throne QUESTION from Richard on September 11, 2002 This question is sent to this forum because the History Forum is now closed.
There are some recent questions and answers in the History Forum dealing with the moment when a person assumes the papal dignity and is able to exercise the highest ecclesiastial authority. The first post on the subject was submitted on June 22nd, by Mr. Basto, under the title Assumption of Papal Authority - a Historical Change?. The question deals with a possible change in the discipline of the Church regarding the exercise of Pontifical Power by a person who has been elected Pope before his episcopal ordination.
Mr. Hynland stated that such a person was already the Pope even before episcopal consecration, but needed to receive the ordination immediately. He explained the difference between the hierarchy of Orders and that of Jurisdiction. He invited others to offer their input, and a few people did. Indeed, the Constitution of Pope Pius XII seems to suggest the solution given by Mr. Hynland, the Catholic Encyclopedia concurring. Mr. Slavek stated that this matter is not subject to change.
Nevertheless, I must disagree. The Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, which is the present law on the subject clearly states in one of the paragraphs of its preamble:
While it is indeed a doctrine of faith that the power of the Supreme Pontiff derives directly from Christ, whose earthly Vicar he is,[8] it is also certain that this supreme power in the Church is granted to him by means of lawful election accepted by him, together with episcopal consecration.[9]
Therefore, it seems that the present Constitution represents a change of position when compared to Pius XII's Constitution in that regard.
And it seems that this is really a matter subject to change. Because if it is an issue regarding the Hierarchy of Jurisdiction and the discipline of the election, then, it seems that the current Pope, as the legislator of the norms regulating the election of a successor, and in exercise of his Apostolic Authority, is able to set a condition for the assumption to the Papal Throne.
Thus, it seems that past rules considered ordination as a non essential element for the assumption of power, but since the pope must be the Bishop of Rome, the Pope episcopal consecration needed to take place at once, although the Pope was already the Pope even before being a Bishop. And it seems that the present rules consider ordination as an essential element, so that the one elected is by no means Pope until after receiving episcopal ordination.
And, as was previously mentioned, some Cardinals, such as the American Cardinal Dulles, are not Bishops and nevertheless, as members of the Sacred College, they have a reasonable chance of getting elected.
What are your views on the subject?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on September 17, 2002 Dear Richard:
From the Catholic Encyclopedia: Immediately on the canonical election of a candidate and his acceptance, he is true pope and can exercise full and absolute jurisdiction over the whole Church. A papal election, therefore, needs no confirmation, as the pontiff has no superior on earth.
The methods and requirements for election have changed through out time. The full article from the Catholic Encyclopedia may be of interest:
Current canon law states: (Canon 332.1)
The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by his acceptance of legitimate election together with episcopal consecration. Therefore, a person elected to the supreme pontificate who is marked with episcopal character obtains this power from the moment of acceptance. If the person elected lacks episcopal character, however, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately.
According to the commentaries of the Canon Law Society of America this statute states that the power of the pope begins immediately upon acceptance of election IF the person is already a bishop.
If the elected person is not a bishop, his papal power begins immediately upon his ordination as bishop. Even a layman can be elected pope technically, but he must be immediately ordained a deacon, consecrated a priest, then bishop. But since 1378 only cardinals have been elected.
These provisions can be changed in canon law. And the details of of papal elections that are not regulated by Canon law, are changed all the time. Pope John Paul II issued new regulations for the details of election in his Universi Dominici gregis of February 22, 1996. This deals with manner of majority votes to elect and such things.
But the bottom line is that when an eligible Catholic man is validly elected Pope he IS Pope whether that power begins immediately upon acceptance of election or a few hours later after consecration as a bishop. I believe this would all happen BEFORE the Pope was presented to the people.
From a practical standpoint it does not matter much if the power begins now or a few hours from now. The first few hours of a new pope's reign is generally taken up in ceremony, receptions, and audiences anyway.
If there was some crisis that required the Pope to immediately get to work exercising his power, that would not be a problem. If consecration as a bishop was needed, it can be done quickly if necessary.
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