Time For Another Consistory? We Have Lost 16 Cardinals (July 20, 2009)

by Anura Guruge

Please refer to December 23, 2009 post about the ‘Next Consistory‘.

On July 17, 2009, Cardinal Jean Margéot (Mauritius), a cardinal priest since 1988, died at the age of 93. The last cardinal to die prior to that was the Italian, Franciscan Cardinal Umberto Betti on April 1, 2009, at the age of 87. He had participated in Vatican II. He had been created a cardinal in November 24, 2007 by the current pope (and as such had never participated in a conclave).

With Cardinal Margéot‘s passing the College of Cardinals now stands at 185, 113 under the age of 80 and as such still eligible participate in a conclave.

On March 5, 1973, Paul VI specified that the maximum numbers of cardinals that would be able to vote in a papal election [i.e., maximum number of electors] would be 120.

John Paul II, in 2001, overlooked this limit. Following what was his last but one consistory there had been 128 electors. He was aware of it. He was assuming, obviously and correctly, that a conclave was not imminent. (If there had been a need for conclave when there were more than 120 electors, the College, most likely, would have precluded the most recently created cardinals from participating in order to conform with the papal edict.) Following his last consistory in 2003 there were 135 electors within a College of 194 (plus one in pectore [i.e., name not announced])!

The world expert on cardinals, Salvador Miranda (who helps me out on a regular basis), has informed me that Benedict XVI, in his first consistory in 2006, stated that he does not intend to exceed Paul VI’s 120 limit for electors.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the current Dean of the College of Cardinals, turned 80 on November 23, 2007, one day ahead that last consistory. This meant that there were only 102 electors on the day of the consistory. Benedict created 18 new ones to bring the number to 120.

So after the last consistory on November 24, 2007, there were 201 cardinals, with 120 eligible to vote.

So we are down a total of 16 cardinals and 7 electors from that point.

On June 25, 2009 Cardinal Francesco Marchisano of Italy turned 80. On July 4, Colombian cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos will joined him. So we are down to 113 electors. This is not a problem, if anything, it is an opportunity.

At the time of the last conclave in April 2005, there were 183 cardinals in total, with 117 eligible to vote (Cardinal Ratzinger, the current pope, having been one of them).

There is, however, at present, no specified limit to the size of the total College per se, though it is probably limited, implicitly, by the actual number of titular and suburbicarian churches available in and around Rome. Per my calculations there are 211 such churches (but the Dean of the College gets Ostia in addition to another see, so the number in reality is 210). Plus we have the three (3) Eastern Patriarchs who are also in the College. So that gives us 213. That might be the limit — but it maybe possible for the pope, if he so wishes, to find other churches in the vicinity of Rome to add to this list, if he wants a College that is larger than 213.

In 1587, Sixtus V established the size of the College to be 70. This limit stood for 371 years. Then, in 1958, within months of being elected, John XXIII, increased the limit to 75. Then in 1960 he increased it to 88, and in 1962 to 90.

There are also no rules or even conventions as to when a pope should convene a consistory to create cardinals. Pius XII only held two consistories in his 19 year papacy. On the other hand, Pius XI, whose papacy was two years shorter, convened 17 consistories to create cardinals. John Paul II, during his 26 year reign, created 231 cardinals in 9 consistories (the 231 being the most cardinals created by a single pope). Paul VI reigned lasted 15 years. He created 143 cardinals in 6 consistories. So John Paul II convened a cardinal creating consistory, on average, every 2.8 years; Paul VI every 2.5 years.

Benedict XVI became pope on April 19, 2005. He has since created 38 cardinals in 2 consistories; March 24, 2006 and November 24, 2007. So compared to John Paul II and Paul VI, his ‘consistory rate’ is slightly faster.

So he could easily wait another year even before he opts to elect more cardinals — though I think (and I could be dead wrong) that we might see a cardinal creating consistory towards the end of this year, November, ahead of Christmas, being a popular time for consistories.

Hope this helps. Thank you for your time.