Pope Benedict shocked the world when he announced he will be stepping down as Supreme Pontiff at the end of the month. Except for the usual papal death, the conclave will proceed as usual. I wanted to explore some of the numbers and statistics important to this conclave.
- There will be 117 cardinal electors (cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave) next month.
- There are a total of 209 living cardinals, but 92 will have reached the age of 80 before the day the See of Peter will become vacant and can no longer be part of the election process.
- 67 of the current cardinal electors were chosen by Pope Benedict XVI, and 50 were picked by Pope John Paul II (This is more balanced than the electors at the 2005 Papal Election, wherein all but three (Joseph Ratzinger, Jaime Sin, and William Wakefield Baum) were chosen by Pope John Paul II)
- The youngest cardinal elector is Baselios Cleemis (Isaac) Cardinal Thottunkal from India, who is 53 years old. The oldest cardinal elector will be Walter Cardinal Kasper of Germany, who will turn 80 before the conclave begins, on March 5. The oldest living cardinal is 98 year old Ersilio Cardinal Tonini of Ravenna-Cervia, Italy.
- Paddy Power, a major betting organization, currently ranks Marc Cardinal Ouellette, former Archbishop of Quebec City and current Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, as the best odds for being chosen as the next pope. I would be happy with this result!
- Pope Benedict will officially end his papacy at 8:00pm (1900 GMT), February 28, 2013. At this moment, there will begin a period called an interregnum, meaning between reigns, in which there is no pope.
- Article 37 of Universi Dominici Gregis requires that a papal conclave begin between 15 and 20 days after the end of a papacy, usually due to the death of the pope. The requirement does not note any exceptions to this time period. However, one part reads "the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent". Notice is says "for those who are absent". If, however, all cardinals are present before the 15 days are up, can the conclave commence? On this point, I am uncertain. My guess is no. Given airlines and other technology, it seems as though the elections of 2005, two from 1978, and even 1963, and 1958, could have in theory occurred before a 15 day waiting period. Yet none did. Therefore it seems likely the election would commence on the 16th of March. That is, Pope Benedict ends his duties on February 28, there is no activity for 15 full days, then the following day, the 16th, the elections would commence.
- Pope Benedict is one of only a few popes to ever step down voluntarily. The most recent was Pope Gregory XII in 1415 who did so in order to settle the conflict arising from the Avignon Papacy. He saw this as the only solution and therefore it is arguable as to whether this was truly voluntary. The most notable case of a voluntary resignation is that of Celestine V in 1294. This pope explicitly gave permission to popes to resign and then did so himself soon afterward. Two other popes resigned. Benedict IX did so in 1045, but soon regretted his actions and reclaimed his papacy. Finally there is Pope John XVIII. Little is known of this pope's resignation beside the fact that it happened. Therefore, if you do not count papal abdications which were done to resolve an immediate conflict or in which the abdicating pope reconsidered his decision, we can conclude that Pope Benedict XVI will be only the third pope to voluntarily and permanently quit his post as pope while still alive.