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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. It superseded Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic constitution, Romano Pontifici eligendo, and all previous apostolic constitutions and orders on the subject of the election of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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. The new rules were first applied in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.