Universi Dominici Gregis is an Apostolic Constitution of the Roman Catholic Church issued by Pope John Paul II on February 22, 1996. It superseded Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution, Romano Pontifici Eligendo.

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 such that the rules today are as follows:


  • Cardinals must be no more than eighty years of age on the day before the death or resignation of the Pope.
  • No more than 120 Cardinals may vote.
  • A Pope shall be elected by a vote of two-thirds until a total of 33 or 34 votes have taken place.
  • Maximum of two votes in the morning and two each afternoon, totaling four votes will be held daily.
  • After a total of 33 or 34 ballots depending whether a ballot took place on the afternoon of the first day, an absolute majority of the College of Cardinals may change the election rule; however, no modification can supersede the requirement that a valid election have at least an absolute majority of the votes. (This regulation was later revised by Benedict XVI; see below)


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 accommodations built within the Vatican City. Previously Cardinals were housed in improvised accommodations which were often noted for not being particularly comfortable.

Major changes

Three major changes occurred in the new Apostolic Constitution.

  • Provision was provided for the election of a pope by an absolute majority in certain circumstances.
  • For the first time in centuries cardinals were to be provided with an official set of apartments separate from the Sistine Chapel.
  • The method by which a pope symbolically took office was made less specific. Whereas Pope Paul's Romano Pontifici Eligendo explicitly required that the new pope be crowned, the new Apostolic Constitution wrote more ambiguously of the inauguration of the pontificate without spelling out specifically by name whether than inaugurating (ie, formal ceremonial beginning of) the pontificate involves either the old enthronement ceremony, the Papal Coronation or the version used since 1978, the Papal Inauguration. All that is required is that some formal ceremony take place. What form that takes is left up to the discretion of the incoming pope.

2005 papal conclave

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


On June 11, 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 majority required to elect the Pope. Unless changed by a future Pope, a two-thirds majority will be required to elect a new Pope regardless of the number of ballots it takes to elect a new Pope.[1]

See also

External links

sv:Universi Dominici Gregis

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