The Sacred College Changed by the Rapid Turnover of Its Electors

October 16, 2020

In less than a week, the Sacred College lost two electors, in very different circumstances. Considering the age limit that many cardinals will be reaching within two years, the impending creation of new porporati becomes more and more likely.

“Everything changes and nothing remains still ... and ... you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Heraclitus of Ephesus could have easily applied his dear maxim to the Sacred College, which, as we know, has the heavy burden of electing the successor of Peter: in recent days, two cardinals have lost their right to vote, reducing the number of electors during a possible conclave, to one hundred and twenty.

Nothing serious, since this number corresponds to the maximum limit of the number of electors who can participate in the big election.

However, the age limit of eighty years at the end of which any cardinal loses his right to vote – a limit imposed by Paul VI in 1970, in his motu proprio Ingravescentem aetatem - is likely to regularly upset the face of the Sacred College.

Thus, since September 29, 2020, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, former secretary of the Synod of Bishops, having reached the canonical age limit, has lost his right to elect a pope during a future conclave.

In addition, during the years 2021 and 2022, seventeen additional cardinals are expected to blow out their eighty candles.

And if we add the possible deaths of certain porporati of voting age, or the always possible renunciation-sanction of an elector, as is the case for Cardinal Angelo Becciu, forced to retire on September 25 against the backdrop of a financial scandal, we understand how much the college of cardinal-electors is an evolving reality.

From this perspective - given that the popes prefer to maintain the upper limit of voters in order to secure a future conclave - it would not be surprising if the creation of new cardinals were totake place - around twenty say observers - within the next two years.

An opportunity for Pope Francis to make his mark more deeply in the venerable assembly charged with finding a successor for him. However, in this area nothing is ever certain, and the circumstances - all of which are in the hand of God - can bring many surprises.