Ever since Pope Alexander Ill’s decree of 1179, the College of Cardinals has alone had the power to choose new popes. Vatican Council II, however, reasserted the authority of all bishops — whether cardinals or not — in helping to govern the church. In 1973 and 1974 Pope Paul VI broadly hinted he might go further and admit a few ordinary bishops to the conclave that elects a pope. But pope Paul VI released the rules for choosing his successor, the cardinals-only tradition survived intact.
The decree reaffirmed ban on conclave voting by cardinals who have reached age 80. But otherwise it was a strategic victory for stand patters, who feared that any participation by the bishops would weaken the power of the College of Cardinals and the Vatican Curia. Another papal move: the assistants who previously accompanied the cardinals into the conclave will henceforth be excluded.