Why exactly is it that Cardinals over the age of 80 cannot vote in the conclave? A friend and I were having a discussion on the Church the other night and when this question came up neither of us had an answer. Thank you!
The official reason for this rule was given by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic constitution on papal elections Universi Dominici Gregis:
[T]hose cardinals who celebrate their eightieth birthday before the day when the Apostolic See becomes vacant do not take part in the election. The reason for this provision is the desire not to add to the weight of such venerable age the further burden of responsibility for choosing the one who will have to lead Christ’s flock in ways adapted to the needs of the times.
The Pope goes on to add that cardinals over eighty do have duties during the interregnum (Latin, “between reigns”) of popes:
This does not however mean that the cardinals over eighty years of age cannot take part in the preparatory meetings of the conclave, in conformity with the norms set forth below. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, and especially during the election of the Supreme Pontiff, they in particular should lead the people of God assembled in the patriarchal basilicas of Rome and in other churches in the dioceses throughout the world, supporting the work of the electors with fervent prayers and supplications to the Holy Spirit and imploring for them the light needed to make their choice before God alone and with concern only for the “salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law.”
While concern for the frailty of elderly cardinals is the official explanation for the reason why cardinals over eighty are not allowed to vote in conclave, there are certain practical realities that we might speculate contributed to the decision (and please note that these are speculations):
[list]Those who are elderly sometimes suffer from mental afflictions that do not entirely disable the person immediately but may affect his judgment long before he is unable to function in other capacities. Such a person might have the capacity to cast a vote, but might also be too easily pressured to join factions for a particular candidate for whom he would not otherwise have voted. Rather than submit all of the electors to physical and psychological examinations, a process that could take months, it is simpler and more just to automatically exclude those most likely to be vulnerable to such conditions: those who are over eighty.[/list]
[list]As the Holy Father later points out, those cardinals not in conclave can provide valuable support for the people in Rome waiting for the results of the election and for the electors themselves through participation in preparatory meetings and prayers for the election. Not being able to vote does not mean that these elderly cardinals do not have valuable and necessary contributions to make to the process.[/list]