What if Pope Francis wanted to reform the conclave, and further, to enact new rules in the event of a sede vacante, this particular period of interregnum during which the Church awaits the election of a new Roman pontiff? A fairly credible hypothesis to agitate the closed circle of Roman Vaticanists.
The meeting of the Council of Cardinals – nicknamed the “C8” given its current format – on June 21, 2022 did not go unnoticed in the small world of the Vaticanists. Firstly perhaps, due to its surprisingly short duration: one hour, where in the past it has often extended over several days.
Perhaps also, and especially, by the laconic report given by the Press Office of the Holy See: “after a roundtable discussion on the application of the new Apostolic Constitution, the work of the Council focused on certain organizational and thematic aspects of the next meeting of all cardinals scheduled for August 29 and 30.”
The next ordinary public consistory therefore seems to gotten the full attention of the Argentine pontiff’s security detail: from that to seeing the signs of a new reform is a step that more than one Roman observer has taken.
For Andrea Gagliarducci – a recognized Vaticanist writing for several press titles – the most probable hypothesis, and one that would circulate in the corridors of the apostolic palaces, is that of a reorganization of the sede vacante period. It would have been mentioned at the last C8 meeting.
The sovereign pontiff would like to abolish the General Congregations, those pre-conclave meetings that bring together cardinals of all ages, according to their affinities, in order to prepare for the next election of the new successor of Peter. It is no longer a mystery that the election of Pope Francis was largely prepared during these congregations by the so-called St. Gallen group, bringing together the most reformist-minded high prelates of the Sacred College.
Instead of the General Congregations, the porporati would be organized into different groups from which cardinals over 80 years of age would be excluded, each group electing a rapporteur who would lead the discussion: a way of reducing the spontaneity of the debates, even of directing them, and no longer give voice to elderly high prelates, among whom there are still several conservatives.
Another avenue of reform would affect the election itself: the maximum number of cardinal electors could be increased to 130 or 140, with the possibility of lowering the threshold of two thirds of the votes that the elected must receive on his name, in the event of a stalemate in the ballot. Thus, the election would be even more subject to political compromises than before.
Due to the planned visit to L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, where Pope Francis is to go to preside over the Celestine Pardon, “the Great Pardon,” established in 1294 by Pope Celestine V, one of at least a handful of Roman pontiffs to have resigned in the history of the Church, before the consistory announced in August—some think that the Pope could resign.
But Francis has taken care to deny these rumors twice. However, he did not rule out stepping down if he no longer felt capable of governing the Church. Vaticanists can therefore continue to speculate.