Is Better Church Governance in violation of Universi Dominici Gregis?

Pope Saint John Paul II wrote the rules governing each papal conclave in the document: Universi Dominici Gregis. Those rules are still in effect, and they include a prohibition against individuals or groups attempting to influence a future papal election. Is the group “Better Church Governance” in violation of those rules? Here are some quotes from the Facebook page of BCG:

“Cardinals have commented that accurately knowing the backgrounds of the other cardinal electors is the most precarious part of each papal conclave. The mission of our flagship project, The Red Hat Report, is to change this by researching and publicizing full dossiers on each cardinal elector—their responses to abuse, their patronage and financial ties, and theological and pastoral priorities. We think of it as the Catholic equivalent to the Federalist Society’s research on Supreme Court nominees.”

“We will create The Red Hat Report before the next papal conclave. This report provides a brief introductory dossier for each cardinal, noting their handling of abuse and corruption, both sexual and fiscal, and their theological and pastoral priorities. We will then classify the level of evidence for abuse/corruption for each cardinal-elector, based on scores from a variety of categories considered. Such a score promotes a clearer understanding of their record of governance and fidelity. Lastly, BCG will publish a book and website with a summation of evidence of each cardinal’s connection to scandal and abuse for one-stop access for all the cardinal electors responsible for selecting the next Holy Father.”

BCG intends their publications to be used by Cardinal-electors in making their selection for “the next Holy Father”. Is this in violation of Universi Dominici Gregis?

Universi Dominici Gregis: “79. Confirming the prescriptions of my Predecessors, I likewise forbid anyone, even if he is a Cardinal, during the Pope’s lifetime and without having consulted him, to make plans concerning the election of his successor, or to promise votes, or to make decisions in this regard in private gatherings.”

Not only Cardinals, but all persons are forbidden from making plans or decisions regarding the election of the Pope’s successor. The next quote has my emphases added:

“80. In the same way, I wish to confirm the provisions made by my Predecessors for the purpose of excluding any external interference in the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, in virtue of holy obedience and under pain of excommunication latae sententiae, I again forbid each and every Cardinal elector, present and future, as also the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and all other persons taking part in the preparation and carrying out of everything necessary for the election, to accept under any pretext whatsoever, from any civil authority whatsoever, the task of proposing the veto or the so-called exclusiva, even under the guise of a simple desire, or to reveal such either to the entire electoral body assembled together or to individual electors, in writing or by word of mouth, either directly and personally or indirectly and through others, both before the election begins and for its duration. I intend this prohibition to include all possible forms of interference, opposition and suggestion whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree, or any individual or group, might attempt to exercise influence on the election of the Pope.

Is BCG attempting to exercise influence on the election of the Pope? Will their publications constitute interference or a suggestion as to whom the Cardinals should or should not elect? Is their work a type of external interference?

Their Facebook page plainly states that they want the Cardinal electors of the next papal conclave to use their dossiers in making their decision. BCG clearly wishes to have an influence over that decision.

Does this attempt at external influence rise to the level of the “pain of excommunication latae sententiae“? Since the group has not yet published any such dossiers, books, or other documents, I would say: Not yet. But it seems to be their intention to act in a way that violates these rules promulgated by Pope Saint John Paul II. Perhaps they do not realize that they are violating these rules. Maybe someone should tell them.

“83. With the same insistence shown by my Predecessors, I earnestly exhort the Cardinal electors not to allow themselves to be guided, in choosing the Pope, by friendship or aversion, or to be influenced by favour or personal relationships towards anyone, or to be constrained by the interference of persons in authority or by pressure groups, by the suggestions of the mass media, or by force, fear or the pursuit of popularity. Rather, having before their eyes solely the glory of God and the good of the Church, and having prayed for divine assistance, they shall give their vote to the person, even outside the College of Cardinals, who in their judgment is most suited to govern the universal Church in a fruitful and beneficial way.”

Universi Dominici Gregis asks the Cardinal electors not to allow themselves to be guided by pressure groups, or by suggestions in the mass media. I don’t think any Cardinal could make use of the dossier’s provided by Better Church Governance without running afoul of these rules.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 thoughts on “Is Better Church Governance in violation of Universi Dominici Gregis?

    • the information on how abuse cases were handled will certainly tend toward promoting some Cardinals over others as candidates for the papacy. It is not neutral, like a list of Cardinals and their present and former posts. And they intend it to have an influence.


  1. The UDG rules also provide for a man outside the College of Cardinals to be elected Pope, so even though this is something very unusual that can happen, the Cardinals can opt to vote for a man who is not a Cardinal and may not even be tracked down with so much publicity on the media or may not be in a determinate “list” of known candidates.


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