No, campaigning for a pope does not invalidate the conclave…

Eamonn Clark

I don’t want to comment on the escalating rhetoric stemming from the letter from the letter of Abp. Viganò… I do want to comment on the escalating fear that campaigning for a pope pre-conclave (or at least before “sede vacante”) invalidates the election.

It does not.

The argument goes like this: it’s an excommunicable offense to campaign for a pope (at least before the Holy See is vacant), a number of cardinals did this (the “St. Gallen’s Mafia” as it’s called), those excommunicated cardinals had invalidated themselves from voting, and therefore the last conclave was invalid.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And it is irresponsible of people with only a passing familiarity with canon law to be going about spreading such a serious claim.

Here’s what the documents say.

From Universi Dominici Gregis, the document with the special procedural rules for conclaves:

“The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election.”

So, electors are forbidden from what we might call “serious” campaigning. It seems they would not be forbidden from simply expressing desires to each other, or discussing pros and cons. Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine this prohibition was indeed violated by a number of electors, and despite the litany of conditions which make such penalties very difficult to incur, they’ve really been excommunicated by their acts of “campaigning.” Then what?

In the Code of Canon Law, we find:

“Can. 10 – Only those laws must be considered invalidating or disqualifying which expressly establish that an act is null or that a person is effected.”


“Can. 1331 §1. An excommunicated person is forbidden:

3/ to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance.

§2. If the excommunication has been imposed or declared, the offender:

2/ invalidly places acts of governance which are illicit according to the norm of §1, n. 3″

So what this means is that, while excommunicated persons do indeed have the obligation not to vote in a conclave, that act now being illicit, in order for such an act to be invalid that excommunication must be declared. That’s why section 2 says “If the excommunication has been imposed or declared,” implying that if it hasn’t been declared (or imposed, not categorically but personally, ferendae sententiae), then the subsequent penalties don’t apply. Obviously, no such excommunications have been declared (i.e. made public by the proper authority), and so any campaigners, while doing something illegal and immoral, would be doing something which is valid.

See more here.

It was a valid conclave, whether the outcome was good or bad.

3 thoughts on “No, campaigning for a pope does not invalidate the conclave…

  1. While you are correct about all the above, the conclusion should have a note next to it. The note should state that if there was an inquiry into the status of the conclave and determine if Cardinals had reaped the grace of the Holy Spirit’s excommunication, then there would be grounds to nullify the conclave (based upon the declaration of those who have been excommunicated).
    Have a read from Bishop Gracida’s blog and consider his call for the hierarchy to take notice of this issue:


    1. Thanks for the comment.

      The Holy Spirit does not excommunicate people, human beings do, either themselves (latae sententiae) or by imposition from the competent authority (ferendae sententiae). It does not put one out of the state of grace. And given that occult penalties (like an undeclared LS excommunication) do not have an invalidating effect on acts of public governance, and since penalties can’t work “retroactively,” I fail to see the merit of what you are saying. There were no cardinals voting in the last conclave who had public sanctions/penalties on them which would have invalidated their votes, and nothing can therefore be discovered which would make the conclave invalid on such grounds.

      All this – and the obvious ultramontanism (the CCC is “infallible,” say what!?) – is why no significant prelates have paid, will pay, nor should pay any attention to the Gracida letter.


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