Precedence Among Cardinal Bishops — Rationalization

by Anura Guruge

This is a follow up to my May 14, 2010 posting
Precedence Among Cardinal Bishops‘.
Please read that to get the relevant background and context.

Please also read this post on College of Cardinals preferment rules.

IF the precedence rules for Cardinal Bishops did change so that their seniority too (bar that of the Dean and Sub-Dean) would be based on when they were created (as has always been the case for Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons), as opposed to their original episcopal consecration, then it had to have happened post 1961-1962.

In 1961 and then 1962 John XXIII (#262) made two far-reaching rulings that changed the fundamental character of the College. Following those changes it makes sense, if the rules of precedence for Cardinal Bishops were changed, though, as yet, I have not been able to find a papal edict spelling out this change.

Prior to the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, men who were not in Holy Orders could still be created cardinals, but they could only be Cardinal Deacons.

During the Renaissance and into the 19th century it was not unusual to have young, worldly, unordained Cardinal Deacons, typically with aristocratic connections.

Don Luis Antonio Jaime de Borbón y Farnesio, the youngest son of King Philip V of Spain, was created a Cardinal Deacon on December 19, 1735, at the express behest of his father, by Clement XII (#247) – the same pope that instituted the 1731 precedence rule for Cardinal Bishops. Cardinal Borbón y Farnesio was all of 8 years old! [A year earlier, when he was 7, the pope, succumbing to imperial coercion, had given Luis Antonio power over the Archdiocese of Toledo (Spain).]

Leo X (#218), Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, the second son of the famed Florentine Lorenzo ‘il Magnifico’ de’ Medici was created a Cardinal Deacon, at the age of 13, by Innocent VIII (#214), in March 1489 – though the pope waited until the cardinal was 16 before disclosing of his creation. [This was prior to in pectore creations coming to be 1536.]

In the early 13th century, about 150 years after the College was instituted, jus optionis (right of option) came to be. Per jus optionis, whenever a cardinalate was vacant, the most senior of the cardinals residing in or around Rome could opt for that title. In the case of cardinal bishops, they could, per this scheme, opt for one (and only one) transfer of bishopric during their lifetime – albeit with Ostia always reserved for the Dean. Cardinal priests and cardinal deacons could use this option either within their order or, more significantly, to opt for a title in a higher order. Per this scheme, the senior most Cardinal Deacon could ask to be made a Cardinal Bishop.

In 1586 Sixtus V (#228), who did much to reform the College and the curia, enacted a constitution that stated that one needed to be at least twenty-two years old in order to be created a cardinal deacon and, moreover, be prepared to be ordained within a year of their creation.

[With this ruling Sixtus might have been trying to atone for the appointment of his fourteen year old grand-nephew who as far as can be seen was never ordained, though he went on to become a Cardinal Bishop per the jus optionis preferment rules.]

Upon being ordained, a cardinal deacon would be re-assigned as a cardinal priest (with a new title) – but only when a new cardinal deacon was created to back fill the resulting vacancy. Sixtus V also updated the jus optionis preferment rules were to state that cardinal deacons must have ten years of tenure before they could request a vacant suburbicarian see [i.e., be a cardinal bishop]. However, the Cardinal Protodeacon [i.e., the earliest created], provided that he was thirty years or older, could opt for a suburbicarian see if it became vacant for a third time since his creation. The Sixtus rulings were embodied into the 1917 Canon Law.

You could now see what Clement XII was trying to achieve with his 1731 precedence ruling.

He was basically trying to give seniority to career clerics. Hence, the emphasis on original episcopal consecration. This makes a lot of sense given the jus optionis.

In 1961, John XXIII (#262) with his Ad Suburbicarias Dioeceses motu proprio overrode jus optionis. John decreed that the senior most cardinal priest or deacon no longer had the right to opt for a vacant suburbicarian see [i.e., to seek promotion to be a cardinal bishop]. Henceforth, the filling of a vacant suburbicarian see would be a prerogative of the pope, who could do so by creating a new cardinal or by promoting any of the existing cardinals, irrespective of their seniority. Ad Suburbicarias Dioeceses is a relatively succinct motu proprio and there appears to be no mention that the 1731 precedence rule was changed.

In 1962, via another motu proprio John required that all cardinals receive episcopal consecration unless an explicit exemption is granted by the pope, typically on the grounds of age. So, as of 1962, the concerns that must have prompted Clement XII to issue his precedence ruling were no longer applicable. So it would have been appropriate to have the precedence for Cardinal Bishops be the same as that for Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Deacons; i.e., seniority as of creation.

The problem is that we can’t find the necessary papal edict.