Ingravescentem aetatem

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Ingravescentem aetatem ( Ecclesiastical Latin:  [iŋɡraveˈʃentem eˈtatem] ) is a document issued by Pope Paul VI, dated 21 November 1970. It is divided into 8 chapters. The Latin title is taken from the incipit, and translates to "advancing age". It established a rule that only cardinals who have not reached the age of 80 can participate in a conclave.

In 2013, when Pope Benedict XVI announced his plan to resign as pope, he described his reasoning with the same phrase: ingravescentem aetatem. [1]


In this motu proprio , a document issued on his own authority, Pope Paul modified the rules governing the participation by cardinals in a papal conclave to elect a new pope and he set age limitations for some of their other responsibilities. It was a part of a broader program to use age restrictions to change the demographic profile of church leadership that included the retirement of archbishops and bishops at age 75 as urged in Ecclesiae Sanctae (1966). [2]

He established a rule that only cardinals who have not reached the age of 80 can participate in a conclave. The key dates were the cardinal's birthday and the opening day of the conclave, since the rule stated that at age 80 a cardinal loses the right to "enter the conclave". [3] Also at 80, a cardinal's membership in the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and related institutions of the Holy See and Vatican City would now terminate. [4] [5]

Ingravescentem aetatem also asked the heads of Vatican departments to submit their resignations from those offices "voluntarily" at age 75 and noted that the pope would determine whether to accept those resignations on a case-by-case basis. [6] [5] [note 1]

A cardinal's membership in the College of Cardinals was not otherwise affected. Ingravescentem aetatem specified they may participate in the several days of discussions that the cardinals hold before the start of a conclave. [8] Other provisions established procedures to be followed to substitute a cardinal for one excluded by age from a conclave where he had duties to perform, as in the case of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, [9] or to fill certain key offices vacated due to age while the papacy is vacant, such as that of the Camerlengo. [10]

Pope Paul reiterated the rule restricting participation in conclaves by cardinals over 80 when he issued a general set of rules for conclaves, Romano Pontifici eligendo , in 1975. [11]


The immediate impact when the new rules took effect on 1 January 1971 was to eliminate the voting rights of 25 cardinals, 11 of them Italians, who were 80 years old on that day. It altered the cardinal electors as of that date from 127 with 38 Italians to 102 with 27 Italians. [12]

Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who had turned 80 just a month before the new rules were issued, said the Pope's action was "an act committed in contempt of tradition that is centuries old" and he was "throwing over board the bulk of his expert and gifted counselors". [13] Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, 86, objected that each cardinal's health should determine his fitness and suggested that 73-year-old Paul VI seemed frail. [14] [15] Though seen as a way to reduce the influence of some of the most conservative cardinals, [16] the new rule excluded as well Achille Liénart of Lille and Joseph Frings of Cologne, two of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Catholic church hierarchy at the Second Vatican Council. The New York Times reported that some observers thought Pope Paul was hinting that he would himself resign at 75. [12] [note 2] Pope Paul had in fact written a letter on 2 May 1965 in anticipation of inability to serve as pope until death. He wrote to the dean of the College of Cardinals that "In case of infirmity, which is believed to be incurable or is of long duration and which impedes us from sufficiently exercising the functions of our apostolic ministry; or in the case of another serious and prolonged impediment", he renounced his office "both as bishop of Rome as well as head of the same holy Catholic Church". [17]

The first conclaves to which Pope Paul's rule applied were those of August and October 1978, where 15 cardinals were ineligible to enter the conclave because of their age. [18] When the next conclave occurred in 2005, 66 cardinals were too old to participate. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, one of them, traveled from Australia to participate in pre-conclave discussions but defended the rule as an act of charity for allowing older members to absent themselves. He said that the sight of "people being carried up steps ... might make people wonder" about the suitability of the electors for their responsibility. [19]

Pope John Paul II in Universi Dominici gregis of 22 February 1996 modified the rule slightly to avoid having the exclusion of a cardinal depend upon the start date of a conclave, a date which the cardinals can modify. Instead he excluded any cardinal who reaches 80 before the papacy becomes vacant through the death or resignation of a pope. [20]


  1. Pope Francis modified this rule in 2014 to require such resignations. [7]
  2. One historian believes that when the six cardinal bishops elected Amleto Cicognani as Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1972 at the age of 89, they "implicitly rebuked" Paul VI for establishing an age limitation for serving as a cardinal elector. [16]

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Pope Pius XI instituted a new rule for setting the date for the start of a papal conclave to elect a new pope by promulgating the document Cum proxime on 1 March 1922, less than a month after his own election. The four non-European cardinals had not participated in the conclave that elected him in February. Three of them arrived too late and one did not attempt the journey. With Cum proxime, Pius XI extended the time between the death of a pope and the start of the conclave to increase the likelihood that cardinals from distant locations could reach Rome in time to participate.


  1. Faggioli, Massimo (2015). Pope Francis: Tradition in Transition. Paulist Press. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  2. Allen Jr., John L. (2002). Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election. Random House. p. 79.
  3. Ingravescentem aetatem, II.2
  4. Ingravescentem aetatem, II.1
  5. 1 2 Beal, John P.; Coriden, James A.; Green, Thomas J., eds. (2000). New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Paulist Press. pp. 472, 712. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  6. Ingravescentem aetatem, I
  7. O'Connell, Gerard (5 November 2014). "Pope Francis revises resignation norms for bishops and cardinals". America . Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  8. Ingravescentem aetatem, V
  9. Ingravescentem aetatem, VII and VIII
  10. Ingravescentem aetatem, VI.1
  11. Pope Paul VI (1 October 1975). "Romano Pontifici eligendo" (in Italian). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 31 October 2017.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. 1 2 Hoffman, Paul (24 November 1970). "Voting for Popes Is Barred to Cardinals Over 80". New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2017. However, there have been suggestions in recent years that Pope Paul intended to resign as head of the church on completing his 75th year.
  13. Friendly Jr., Alfred (27 November 1970). "Ottaviani Deplores Papal Action Barring Vote of Aged Cardinals". New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  14. "Crítica de dos Cardenales contra el Papa Paulo VI" (in Spanish). UP. 26 November 1970. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  15. Burkle-Young, Francis A. (1999). Passing the Keys: Modern Cardinals, Conclaves and the Election of the Next Pope . New York: Oxford University Press. p.  204. ISBN   1-56833-130-4.
  16. Pham, John-Peter (2004). Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession . Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  17. Wooden, Cindy (16 May 2018). "Pope Paul VI prepared 'resignation letter'". The Tablet. Catholic News Service. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  18. Hofmann, Paul (9 August 1978). "Choice of Non‐Italian Pope Held Possible but Unlikely". New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2017. Among the 115 cardinals entitled to take part in the balloting — the 15 others are barred because they are over the age of 80 — only 27 are Italians.
  19. Walsh, Mary Ann (2005). From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI: An Inside Look at the End of an Era, the Beginning of a New One, and the Future of the Church. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 96. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  20. John Paul II (22 February 1996). "Universi Dominici gregis". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 31 October 2017. 33. The right to elect the Roman Pontiff belongs exclusively to the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, with the exception of those who have reached their eightieth birthday before the day of the Roman Pontiff's death or the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)