Universi Dominici gregis

For the papal bull, see Dominici gregis.
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Universi Dominici gregis is an Apostolic Constitution of the Catholic Church issued by Pope John Paul II on 22 February 1996.[1] It superseded Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici Eligendo, and all previous apostolic constitutions and orders on the subject of the election of the Roman Pontiff.[1]

Universi Dominici gregis ('the Lord's whole flock', from the opening statement 'The Shepherd of the Lord's whole flock is the Bishop of the Church of Rome, ...'), subtitled On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff, deals with the vacancy of the Chair of St Peter and Bishop of Rome namely the Pope.

The constitution modified or in some cases confirmed the rules, for the conclave. It also clarified, during a Sede Vacante, which matters could be handled by the College of Cardinals and which matters were reserved for the future Pope.



Universi Dominici gregis is laid out into 92 numbered paragraphs (though some paragraphs are split into two parts), plus a 14-paragraph introduction and a two-paragraph Promulgation (which are not numbered). Though the text is subdivided into Parts and Chapters, the numbering remains consecutive throughout and is not restarted at a new Part or Chapter.

The basic format of Universi Dominici gregis is as follows:

Part One

Part One deals with matters during a Sede Vacante (between the time of the Pope's death or resignation and the Papal conclave), such as what issues can be handled by the College of Cardinals and which ones must be left to the future Pope.

Chapter I

During a Sede Vacante, the Cardinals have no power in things which pertain to the Pope during his lifetime or of his office; such matters are for the future Pope. Any act of jurisdiction pertaining to the Pope during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office which the Cardinals might see fit to exercise, beyond the limits expressly permitted by Universi Dominici gregis is null and void.

Chapter II

Chapter II deals with arrangements involving the public viewing and burial of the deceased Pope and matters after his death.

It also deals with the makeup of the General Congregation and the Particular Congregation of the Cardinals.


Strict secrecy is to be ensured throughout the process. Anyone violating the security of the Vatican, introducing recording equipment, or communicating with a cardinal elector in any way, risks excommunication. Other penalties are at the discretion of the incoming Pope. Various oaths are also required to be taken by the participants, to ensure that they will act properly.

Previous methods of election

Previously, in addition to secret ballot two other methods were allowed for the conduct of the election. A committee of nine to fifteen unanimously chosen cardinals might have been delegated, to make the choice for all (election by compromise, per compromissum). Alternatively, formal ballots could be discarded: in election by acclamation (per acclamationem seu inspirationem) the electors simultaneously shouted out the name of their preferred candidate. Both of these methods have now been abolished: the rationale given was that either compromise or acclamation would not require each cardinal to express his preference. Also, these two methods tended to produce controversy, and in any case neither had been used for quite some time - the last compromise election was of Pope John XXII in 1316, and the last affirmation (acclamation) election was of Pope Gregory XV in 1621. As a result, election by secret ballot is now the only valid method of electing a Pope.

Living quarters of cardinals

Also Universi Dominici gregis provided that Cardinals would be housed in Domus Sanctae Marthae, a building with dormitory type accommodation built within the Vatican City. Previously Cardinals were housed in improvised accommodation which were often noted for not being particularly comfortable.

Major changes

Three major changes occurred in the new Apostolic Constitution.

2005 papal conclave

The Papal election of 2005 was the first papal election to be held under this system.


On 11 June 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued a Motu Proprio beginning with the words Constitutione Apostolica, subtitled De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione romani pontificis which reinstates the traditional norms for the vote required to elect the Pope. Unless changed by a future Pope, a two-thirds vote will be required to elect a new Pope regardless of the number of ballots it takes to elect a new Pope.[2]

After Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, on 25 February 2013, he issued the Motu Propio Normas Nonnullas wherein he changed the conclave law, leaving the College of Cardinals the possibility to bring forward the start of the conclave once all cardinals are present, or push the beginning of the election back by a few days should there be serious reasons. The Pope also amended the conclave law to declare automatic excommunication of any non-cardinal who broke the absolute oath of secrecy of the College of Cardinals during the proceedings to select the new leader of the Catholic Church. Under the prior rules, any such person who violated the pact of secrecy was subject to punishment at the discretion of the new pope.[3] The new rules were first applied in the 2013 Conclave which elected Benedict's successor.

See also


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