A rather subtle change took place in the character of the current College of Cardinals under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) — the first such in the long history of the College of Cardinals as the exclusive papal electors. It is also anyone’s guess on how this would affect the upcoming conclave. It involves the current configuration of the venerable College.But before we study the current composition, it is worth recalling a far more radical change in papal elections that took place nearly a millennium earlier, one whose implications are felt to this day.On April 13, 1059 Pope Nicholas II (1059-1061) affirmed papal independence from the Holy Roman Emperor and rejected imperial involvement in any subsequent papal election by issuing the papal bull, In nomine Domini, which determined that henceforth the election of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) was limited exclusively to Cardinal-Bishops who were to seek the consent of the Cardinal-Priests and Cardinal-Deacons. Though this document found resistance in the civil domain for obvious reasons, Emperor Henry V (1111-1125) formally renounced any direct involvement in papal elections at the Concordat of Worms, enacted by Pope Calixtus II (1119-1124) and the Emperor on Sept. 23, 1122. Subsequently, at the Lateran Council III of 1179, Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) published the Constitution Licet de evitanda which definitively limited to the three orders of Cardinals (bishop, priest, deacon) the right to elect the next Pope while in conclave. The role of the College of Cardinals, in and out of conclave, has undergone considerable development and a number of changes down the centuries, but it remains the sole body which elects the new Pope, and serves as a Senate of the Roman Pontiff in advising and assisting him in his ministry as the Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church. The only exception in the last 960 years which deviated from having the College of Cardinals as sole papal electors was the election of Pope Martin V (1417-1431) on Nov. 11, 1417 at the Council of Constance. The manner in which his election took place was with the purpose to end the Western Schism (1378-1417). The schism had given the Church a series of two men concurrently claiming to be the true pope, one in Rome and the other in Avignon and, most ignominiously, there were three individuals who simultaneously claimed the papal throne during its ending years. Twenty-three Cardinals and 30 non-cardinal delegates from the Council cast their respective electoral vote. This election was unique and has had no precedence or repetition.Paul VI: Exclusion and expansionEvery Cardinal had a right to vote in a conclave up to 1970. Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), through his motu proprio, Ingravescentem aetatem, of Nov. 21, 1970, excluded those Cardinals who had reached the age of 80 at the time of the opening of the conclave (II, ¬ß2). When the law went into effect on New Year’s Day 1971, 25 Cardinals automatically lost their vote to elect the next pope. By his Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici eligendo, of Oct. 1, 1975, Paul VI officially expanded the limit of the number of Cardinals from 70 to 120. The implications of this revolutionary move was felt in the conclave of Aug. 25-26, 1978 which elected his successor, Pope John Paul I (1978).There were 130 Cardinals when Pope Paul VI died on Aug. 6, 1978. Fifteen of these Cardinals had lost their electoral vote due to age limit, three Cardinal-electors were too ill to participate in the ensuring conclave, and another Cardinal-elector, Paul Yü Pin, died during the sede vacante. Thus, 111 Cardinal-electors participated in the said conclave. Only four Cardinal-electors (less than four percent of the electors) were emeriti at the time and only another eight had reached age 75. The average age was 67.8 with 37 in their sixties and 19 in their fifties.The unexpected death of Pope John Paul I on Sept. 28, 1978 brought back practically the same Cardinal-Electors to elect a successor in the conclave of Oct. 14-16. There were now 112 Cardinal-electors, though the number was reduced by the death of Cardinal Boles≈Çaw Filipiak during the sede vacante. Once again, only four Cardinal-electors were emeriti.Blessed Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) slightly changed the voting qualifications of a Cardinal in that henceforth only those Cardinals who reached age 80 at the time of the death of a Pope or when the See of Rome became vacant (through abdication) were barred from voting. He promulgated this amendment through the Apostolic Constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis, of Feb. 22, 1996. When John Paul died on April 2, 2005, out of the 183 living Cardinals, 117 were Cardinal-electors and two of these could not participate in the conclave (April 18-19) due to health reasons. Sixty-six Cardinals had lost their right to vote due to age. There were 13 Cardinal-electors (less than 12 percent) who were emeriti during this conclave. A different configurationThis configuration was substantially different than the one when Pope Benedict XVI was elected on April 19, 2005. It is also the first time since the election of Pope Paul VI in 1963 that no Cardinal-Elector participated in Vatican Council II in any capacity. Though the medium age of the College of Cardinals was 71.6, there were 44 Cardinals in their seventies who were below the official retirement age, 30 Cardinals in the sixties and another five in their fifties. There were 13 Cardinals who had reached the retirement age but were still in office.There are currently 117 Cardinal-electors and another 92 Cardinals who have lost their right to vote due to age. Two of the Cardinal-Electors will not be participating in the upcoming conclave; Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja is too ill to attend and Cardinal Keith O'Brien deemed it necessary not to participate in the Conclave. The configuration of the Cardinal-electors might be of interest:—Eleven Cardinals are over 79 years old but not yet 80. Two of them, Cardinals Walter Kasper and Severino Poletto, will turn 80 during the Sede Vacante. —The Archdiocese of Guadalajara will have two voting Cardinals: Cardinal Sandoval Í√±guez, emeritus, and Cardinal Robles Ortega, the current archbishop. This is an exception because Popes since 1970 have traditionally tried to prevent any diocese having more than one Cardinal-Elector at a conclave. —Ten Cardinals are over 78. There is a possibility that Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, emeritus of Milan, will turn 79 during the Sede Vacante. Here is another archdiocese which enjoys two votes because Cardinal Scola is the current Archbishop of Milan. —There are six Cardinals who are 77; 14 who are 76; five who are 75. It is possible that Cardinal Attlio Nicora will turn 76 during the Sede Vacante. A bishop is expected to present his letter of resignation from his current Office when he is turning 75. Out of this entire list, 28 out of 48 Cardinals are already in retirement. Let us now turn our attention to the Cardinals who have not reached the retirement age:—There are four Cardinals who are 74; eight who are 73; four who are 72; two Cardinals who are 71; nine who are 70.—Nine Cardinals are 69; seven are 68; five are 67; two are 66; and two are 65. —There are three Cardinals who are 64; six who are 63 (it is possible that Cardinal Kurt Koch will turn that age during the Sede Vacante); two who are 62; and one who is 60. —Two Cardinals are 59, one is 56, another is 55, and the youngest, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis (Isaac) Thottunkal, is 53. —The average age of the Cardinal-Electors at the upcoming conclave is 72.Most electors are retiredThe huge difference between the upcoming conclave and the previous three (since the age limit for voting was imposed) is that 27 Cardinal-electors are already emeriti, and 49 of the 115 have reached the official age for the retirement as dictated by a number of papal decrees and the 1983 Code of Canon Law (canon 401, ¬ß1). The fact is that 76 (about two-thirds) of the Cardinal-Electors have reached the age of retirement. By all means, this does not reflect on the competence and capabilities of a Cardinal whom God has blessed with that age, nor does it take away from the fact of the immense collective wisdom that these Cardinals bring to the Conclave.But a series of questions emerge from the current configuration of voting members of the College of Cardinals:—How will this huge percentage of Cardinal-Electors affect the choosing of the next Roman Pontiff, given the fact the Pope Benedict XVI made it very clear that the principal reason for his abdication was his inability to meet his papal burdens associated due to his old age? —Can a much older Pope be inspirational to the young, whose retired grand-parents or great-grand-parents enjoy a similar age and live in a culture where veneration of old age has simply evaporated?It is possible for the Cardinal-Electors to select someone who is either over 80 or under 80 and in retirement, or someone who, though still active in ministry, is already 75, the age at which a bishop is expected to submit his resignation. Should the Cardinals elect someone between 70 and 74, that would be one out of 26 of their group. If they elect someone in his sixties, that would be one out of 37 in their group. If they choose to elect someone under 60, as was the case with the election of Blessed Pope John Paul II, that would mean one out of five. Of course, there is always the theoretical possibility that the Cardinal-Electors might not look around the Sistine Chapel to choose the next Pope, but look beyond it. However, the last time that this took place was disastrous for the entire Church; it triggered the above-mentioned Western Schism, with the election of Archbishop Bartolomeo Prignano of Acerenza, in the then-Kingdom of Naples, on April 8, 1378. Pope Benedict XVI, who left the papacy on Feb. 28, prayed at the tomb of St. Celestine V (housed in the crypt of the Cathedral of Sulmona, near Aquila) on July 4, 2010. It was his second visit to the saintly Celestine’s tomb; on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict had prayed there and left on it his papal pallium, the symbol of his episcopal ministry as Bishop of Rome. His visit a year later took place during the Celestine Year (August 2009-August 2010), which Pope Benedict declared in honor of the 800th anniversary of the death of the saintly Pope. On this visit, Pope Benedict noted that St. Celestine “knew how to act according to his conscience, in obedience to God’s will, and therefore without fear and with great courage. Even in difficult moments, as the ones from his brief pontificate, he never feared losing his dignity, knowing that it is full of truth.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0308/cardinals/{/gallery}