Vatican City

Analysis: The Excommunication and the Guillotine

Inside the papacy and the 'curia machine'

Analysis: The Excommunication and the Guillotine

(By Giovanna Chirri) Vatican City, February 22 - The highest concentration of excommunications in all of canonical law are reserved for the "princes of of the Church" - the cardinals - and regard the election of the pope. There is, among others, the "latae sententia" or automatic ex-communication for cardinals who show behavior like "simony" - profiting from or selling sacred preferments - or "pacts, agreements, promises" to "give or deny" the vote. There is a "prohibition", when the pope is alive, for cardinals to "promise to vote or take decisions in private gatherings". There is a series of norms against possible interferences between worldly behavior or interests and the choice of Saint Peter's successor, the Vicar of Christ on earth. The Church, made of men, protects the validity of the papal election from human defects. "Any irregular conduct" committed by the cardinals "is irrelevant for the purposes of the elective acts," underlines the canonist Monsignor Juan Arrieta. And this "rigidity should be understood with a sense of historical perspective, of the many experiences and many risks that one wants to avoid" in the election of a pope, comments Arrieta. Wielding paragraphs as if they were a fencer's foil the canonist demolishes - without citing - any requests made by groups of worshippers that Cardinal Roger Mahony, accused of having covered up pedophile priests, be denied entry into the conclave - a request that sparked the media hunt after various cases of cardinal unworthiness, which could, perhaps, thin the number of voters more than illness or impediments. While Benedict XVI is in prayer, the curia machine runs for normal administration, publishing among other things a series of appointments, among which stands out the nuncio in Colombia, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, until now the deputy foreign minister. They are "appointments decided some time ago" given that the nuncio, among other things, requires the consent of the country in question, comments Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, to one asking his guidance. Articles in these days in fact are calling Balestrero and other clergy into question for misdeeds reported to the pope by the three-cardinal commission that investigated Vatileaks. Among the excommunications and prohibitions, the Church law also contains the pope's "prayer" to "whom will be elected" to "not withdraw himself from the office, to which he is called, for fear of its weight". "In conferring to him the heavy task" God "gives him also the help to carry them out and, in giving to him the dignity, he gives him the power so that he will not falter under the weight of his office". The constitution is the "Universi Dominici Gregis" (UDG) of 1996, signed by John Paul II. Benedict XVI, modifying it in 2007 for the section on ballots, did not touch this prayer by the Polish pope for his successor, whom he did not know. In the first meeting with his countrymen a few days after election, Joseph Ratzinger spoke of a "guillotine" that had fallen on his head in the Sistine chapel. His consent to election - one understands even more after his renouncing the papacy - was for the good of the Church. Certainly the "weight of the office" of which the UDG speaks must have truly consumed his physical and spiritual stamina, as he explained upon announcing his resignation.

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