Universi 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 [1] It superseded Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic constitution, Romano Pontifici eligendo , and all previous apostolic constitutions and orders on the subject of the election of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 See of Rome, i.e., the papacy.

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 consists of an introduction followed by a body of 92 numbered sections, normally just one paragraph but occasionally more than one, and a concluding "Promulgation", which activates the document. The body is divided into two parts, but the 92 sections are numbered continuously.

Part One

During a sede vacante , the College has no power in things which pertain to the pope during his lifetime or of his office. Any such act that the College exercises beyond the limits expressly permitted by this document is null and void.

Part Two

Chapter II deals with arrangements involving the public viewing and burial of the deceased pope and matters after his death and it provides for the organization of the College into a General Congregation and a Particular Congregation.

Major changes


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. Participants are required to take oaths of secrecy.

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 Innocent XI in 1676. As a result, election by secret ballot is now the only valid method of electing a Pope.

Living quarters

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 accommodations which were often noted for not being particularly comfortable.


Later use and amendment

The only papal election held under these rules without amendment was that of 2005 that chose John Paul's successor Benedict XVI.

On 11 June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the requirement that a papal election require a two-thirds majority regardless of the number ballots taken. [3]

After Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, on 25 February 2013, he issued another decree, Normas nonnullas , which allowed the College of Cardinals to bring forward the start of a conclave once all cardinals are present or delay the start a few days if serious reasons justify the change in scheduling. He also amended the rules to declare automatic excommunication of any non-cardinal who broke the oath of secrecy of the College of Cardinals during the proceedings. Previously any such person was subject to punishment at the discretion of the new pope. [4] The new rules were first applied in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

See also


  1. This was a slight change from Paul VI's Ingravescentem aetatem (1970), which set the 80-year age based on the start of the conclave rather than the day of the pope's death or resignation.
  2. In his inauguration homily, Pope John Paul II said: "In past centuries, when the Successor of Peter took possession of his See, the triregnum or tiara was placed on his head. The last Pope to be crowned was Paul VI in 1963, but after the solemn coronation ceremony he never used the tiara again and left his Successors free to decide in this regard. Pope John Paul I, whose memory is so vivid in our hearts, did not wish to have the tiara; nor does his Successor wish it today. This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes. [2]

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  1. 1 2 Pope John Paul II (22 February 1996). "Universi Dominici Gregis". The Holy See. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  2. Pope John Paul II (22 October 1978). "Homily of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the inauguration of his pontificate". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 4 December 2017.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis, die XI m. Iunii, a. MMVII - Benedictus XVI" (in Latin). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 11 June 2006. Retrieved 12 March 2013. Includes links to translations in French and German.
  4. "Apostolic Letter Issued Motu Proprio on Certain Modifications to the Norms Governing the Election of the Roman Pontiff". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2013.