BY VIVIANE HEWITT IN ROME
POPE JOHN PAUL II will publish an Apostolic Letter later this month set to change the character of the conclave, the papal election held by Cardinals.
The 20-page Letter, a motu proprio initiative, is said to slacken regulations on conclave secrecy and could establish a more active participation for Cardinals over 80 years of age, excluded from voting in papal elections by a Paul VI ruling.
The Pope is also reported to recommend in his Letter that Cardinals have medical check-ups before entering a conclave, to guarantee a future Pope "in good condition".
In Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici Eligendo, published on 1 October 1975, Paul VI excluded in his Constitution the right of Cardinals over 80 to vote. With his latest Apostolic Letter, John Paul II could decide to enhance the role of this category, currently totaling about 40 in the College. Most of these Cardinals share the Holy Father's conservative stance on Church teaching, and Vatican observers pointed out this week that, by increasing their influence, John Paul II was in effect ensuring that his successor would be ' chosen by an electorate sympathetic-to his own views.
A year ago, the Pope is known to have privately received a delegation representing the older Cardinals, who appealed for a more active role in conclaves. Any, even slight, modification, would be in response to this appeal, it was generally agreed this week.
Other Cardinals have been outspoken against the Paul VI ruling, issuing press state
merits on the question and addressing it in Italian newspaper interviews.
There have been nine conclaves so far this century, and it is not considered unusual for a Pope to adjust arrangements for the conclave that will elect his successor.
In 1904, Pius X introduced changes just five months after his election to prevent vetoes of candidates by outside political forces. In 1945, Pius XII was halfway through his Pontificate when he ruled that election would be by two-thirds of the vote plus one.
The Letter concerns the new accommodation for Cardinals in conclave, the Santa Marta Residence, refurbished to great controversy in the city of Rome and due to be inaugurated at Easter. The residence features 107 mini-apartments of two rooms plus facilities, as well as 20 single en-suite rooms.
Observers were pointing out this week that although the Vatican denies that the new Apostolic Letter would involve any major alterations to the secrecy regulation governing a conclave, use of the Santa Marta Residence for Cardinals in conclave would represent an automatic breach of traditional procedures. Traditionally, Cardinals in conclave are locked into, the Apostolic Palace, whose windows are also sealed, and may have no outside contact.
The College's new arrangements, however, will entail travelling from the Sistine Chapel every day of the conclave, morning and afternoon, for the four daily voting sessions, to the Santa Marta Residence, which is about a quarter of a mile away at the far end of Vatican City.