There had been some speculation that Pope Francis would hold a consistory in February. This is the ceremony in which a pope names new cardinals, those who help him govern the universal church and eventually are given the task to elect his successor. Usually — but not always — these men come from the ranks of bishops. However, for various historical or personal reasons, some such as my own mentor Cardinal Dulles have asked not to be named a bishop when given the honor. Dulles’s fellow Jesuit classmate Bergoglio was already the Archbishop of Buenos Aires when they received the red hats together in 2001. But Dulles requested to serve as a cardinal while remaining a priest-theologian. In the distant past, some cardinals were neither priests nor bishops, but the code of canon law prohibited that practice in 1917, mandating all cardinals from that point forward be ordained men. A practice which could theoretically be changed some day.
However with the pope’s upcoming trip to Mexico in February and the relative paucity of open “slots” to keep the number of electors at 120, there has been no announcement regarding this speculation about February. Most Vatican observers are now convinced the pope will wait until closer until 2017 to inaugurate an incoming class. November is a likely candidate, with the closing of the Year of Mercy and a few more current electors aging out by then to provide the opportunity for a larger class of new members of the college of cardinals.
As of November, some well-known cardinals will turn 80 and thus lose their eligibility to participate in a future conclave, though not technically their ability to be elected pontiff. This list includes Roger Mahony and William Levada (USA), Ivan Dias (India), Karl Lehman (Germany), Antonio Maria Rouco Varela (Spain), Theodore Adrien Sarr (Senegal) and Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez (Dominican Republic). The last of these has been in the news quite a bit lately due to an ongoing controversy with an openly gay U.S. ambassador to his country.
While the pope has generally toed the line of not appointing more than 120 electors (a tradition at times ignored by Pope John Paul II), in other areas he has invoked his right to name those he deems fit for the office. He’s bypassed the traditional Cardinalatial Sees of Torino and Venice, the latter of which provided the church with three popes in the 20th century as Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I were all Cardinal Patriarchs of “La Serenissima” (“The most peaceful” as Italians still call the northern city). Instead Francis has reached out to the peripheries to give red hats to places like Burkina Faso, Haiti, Tonga, and Myanmar. Even the Italians he selected were from relatively unknown regions like Agrigento and Ancona-Osimo, and were noted for their pastoral commitment to the poor more than the important cultural heritage of their cities. Many speculate Francis’s hand-picked choice for Chicago, Blase Cupich, will one day be called to serve him as a cardinal.
The C-9 as it has come to be called is a personal advisory board of cardinals with whom Francis consults regularly. Influential voices like O’Malley, Pell, Parolin, Marx, and Maradiaga are included in the group, which reportedly had its roots in the conversations leading up to Francis’ election in 2013 and the need for more representation of non-career curialists in the Vatican.
An interesting historical and etymological note: The word “cardinal” comes from the Latin “cardo” meaning “hinge,” with eventual overtones of “essential” or “principal.” The football and baseball teams are then named after the birds who are in turn named after the ecclesiastical office, the similarity coming from the color signifying their willingness to shed their blood for Christ and the papacy.
Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, PhD, Loyola University Chicago.