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Combining autocracy and majority voting: the canonical succession rules of the Latin Church

Giuriato, Luisa (2008): Combining autocracy and majority voting: the canonical succession rules of the Latin Church. Published in: UCSIA Discussion Papers No. 0715

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The autocratic turn of the Latin Church in the XI-XIII century, a reaction to the secular power interferences, concentrated the decision-making power in the hands of the top hierarchy, and finally in the hands of the pope. A fundamental step was the change and the constitutionalisation of the procedures for leadership replacement, which were open successions where the contest for power was governed by elections. The autocratic reform limited the active electorate to the clergy only and gradually substituted the episcopal elections by the pope’s direct appointment. Besides, the voting rules changed from unanimity to the dual principle of maioritas et sanioritas (where the majority was identified with the greater part by number and wisdom) and finally to the numerical rule of qualified majority. This evolution aimed at preserving the elections from external interferences and at eliminating the elements of arbitrariness. The most important succession, the papal election, was protected by institutionalising a selectorate and its decision-making rules. The selectorate and the elections did not insert accountability and representation mechanisms but only protected the quality of the autocratic leadership and its autonomy.

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