Next Consistory (Updated Jan. 10, 2010)

Anura Guruge

<< Please also refer to this May 2, 2010 posting at Popes and Papacy. >>

In July 2009 when the College stood at 185 with 113 electors I speculated that we might be due for a consistory. Well, it is now clear we will not have one in 2009. Popes typically do not convene consistories in January, that traditionally being a time that prelates are supposed to spend in their home communities. But quite a few consistories have been held in February and March. But I get a feeling that it might be some time before we see the next consistory.

As of January 10, 2010, with the death of Irish Cardinal Cahal Brendan daly, we are at 112 electors — the College now standing at 182. The size of the College and the number of electors are thus way down from their respective high-water marks; viz., 201 cardinals after the November 24, 2007 consistory and 135 electors (from within 194 cardinals) after the October 21, 2003 consistory.

Having 135 electors was a bit naughty. In 1973 Pope Paul VI had stated that the number of cardinal electors [i.e., those under the age of 80] could not exceed 120. This 120 limit was codified two years later in clause #33 Paul VI’s October 1, 1975 Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo (the election of the Roman Pontiff). John Paul II’s February 22, 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (the Lord’s whole flock) which superseded Romano Pontifici Eligendo contained the same 120 cardinal elector limit — also in its clause #33. It is known that John Paul II was well aware that he was exceeding the 120 limit, which he did twice, once in 2001 and then in 2003.  [Contrary to what some think John Paul II probably did not exceed the 120 limit at his first consistory in 1979 since one of his creations was in pectore.] But the pope was obviously very au fait with the age statistics and the health status of his princes. He knew that there were many cardinals approaching their eightieth birthday and that some were in poor health. By the time of the April 2005 conclave, seventeen months later, the College was down to 183 cardinals of which 117 were eligible to be electors. It is still not clear what would have happened if there were more than 120 electors when the sede vacante occurred. Some contend that they would all have been permitted to participate in the election. I contend that this would have violated the Constitution — a BIG ‘no-no’ per the Constitution itself! So I suggest that the Camerlengo and a General Congregation would have agreed to exclude the most recently elected (per the rules of College precedence).

Large bodies of cardinals (and thus electors) is a relatively new phenomena. In 1586 Pope Sixtus V in his Postquam verus constitution set 70 as the limit for the size of the College of Cardinals. This 70 limit was never exceeded until 1958 when the iconoclastic Pope John XXIII exceeded it by 4. Within four years he had increased the size of the College to 90 — his rationale, valid as ever, being that the Church in the 20th century was much larger than it had been during the time of Sixtus V. Subsequent popes have continued to increase the size of the College as signified by the graph below — though Pope Benedict XVI, true to his background as a disciplinarian, has vowed that he would not exceed the 120 elector edict. There is, however, no upper limit as to the size of the College. Right now there are enough titles (tituli) to have 218 cardinals — 8 of them, however, would have to be Eastern Rites Patriarchs. But, as has been the case in the past, a pope can create new titles to accommodate more cardinals.

The Current 182 Cardinals/112 Electors Is Not An Issue
There were only 111 electors at the two 1978 conclaves. The 2005 conclave that elected the current pope had 115 electors. So the current numbers are not ‘critical.’ The pope could wait for the numbers to drop a bit more before he decides to create any new cardinals.

Possible Reasons For The Reticence
To be fair the pope has been busy. Earlier this year he had to deal with the whole issue as to why he reinstated the ultra-conservative bishops . Then there was the trip to the Holy Land. Then reaching out to the Anglicans. But, as with Presidents and moms, popes are expected to be busy and be able to multi-task, juggling multiple priorities. So that alone doesn’t cut it.

It is also possible that this pope is very comfortable with the political makeup of this College since he and his dear Mentor are responsible for creating all of the cardinal electors. [One could also be cynical and take the contrarian view. The pope realizes that he probably doesn’t have enough time to create enough electors to significantly change the predominantly conservative leanings of this College.]

I am not a pope-watcher. I am a papal historian. There is a difference. But I think I have a fairly decent feel of this pope. Despite all of the contretemps he has been involved with since becoming pope, I think he is a genuine intellectual. He is a thinker. He ponders. I also think he has a deeper conscience than his predecessor. I think, I could, as ever, be wrong, that this pope is truly contrite about the still unfolding clergy abuse scandal. Though it wasn’t enough he did just recently express his ‘distress’ to the Irish. I also recall him making an apology during his trip to Australia.

So what does the clergy abuse scandal have to do with the size of the College of Cardinals?


Two words. Cost & culpability.

Cardinals, today, are expensive. [Yes, it was the other way around 700 years ago. Creating cardinals was a way to replenish papal coffers. Those days are gone.] Maintaining cardinals is a cost that has to be incurred by the Vatican. Holding a consistory is not cheap. If nothing else there is significant travel and lodging costs. So on the whole having less cardinals — and no consistory — helps the Vatican budget. I think that has been a factor.

I also think, and I could be wrong, that this pope worries that he may create the wrong impression by creating new cardinals at this juncture — particularly from the countries most affected by the scandal. Think about. So that is my take. I don’t have any inside information from Rome. This is just my own musings. So take it for what it is worth.

Grace, and may peace be with you.


4 thoughts on “Next Consistory (Updated Jan. 10, 2010)”

  1. Love the blog.Could you add some more articles explaining Papal History ,I think it will give a less temporal sense to the blog.What did you mean about this Pope having a “deeper conscience” than the last?A fascinating remark but one that needs explaining.

    Again good stuff and God bless you!!

  2. Thanks, Daithi. Yes, I will do my best to add more posts on papal history. I have been working on another papal book — which does include a lot of history about cardinals and conclaves. Busy trying to get the book published. Hopefully I will succeed in the coming months. Then I will devote more time to doing posts on papal history.
    I am really not sure that Pope Benedict XVI having a “deeper conscience” than Pope John Paul II needs that much clarification. Pope Benedict XVI, in my opinion, despite his reputation as the ruthless enforcer of doctrine when he headed the ‘Holy Office,’ is what females refer to as ‘sensitive’ in a male. I think he worries about his burdens. In my opinion, John Paul II didn’t worry as much. I think he truly believed that he was empowered and was doing exactly what God wanted from him. I could be wrong. Just my opinion.
    Thanks. Cheers.

  3. The world have seen so many changes since Pope Paul VI’s decision to limited the number of Cardinal Electors to 120 in 1973. New states and nations were born. Numbers of Roman Catholics all around the world is growing, especially in Africa, Latin America & Asia. I think Pope Benedict XVI should consider to raise the limit number of Cardinal Electors from the current number (120) to 150 or 160 to accomodate these changes and growth. According to this article, there are more than 25 potential candidates that can be cardinals, but if Pope Benedict XVI decides to make consistory later in this year, only 19 of them that will be given The Red Hat. Too many candidates, limited seats.

    1. David,
      Kind of funny because I was having another public discussion on a related issue earlier today. Read this post by my ‘friend’ Tom Heneghan at Reuters FaithWorld … and find my comment <> at the end. I think the pope has enough ‘issues’ right now without trying to increase the number of electors. Plus, remember creating cardinals is now an expense — unlike in medieval times new cardinals don’t provide a substantial ‘contribution’ to the Vatican coffers. Here is the post:
      Thanks for your comment.
      Have you checked out my new book. You can ‘look inside’ it at both Google and Amazon. Cheers. Anura

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