Cardinals, a game of numbers

A flock of cardinals

I’ve been reading up a bit on the possibility for a consistory sometime this year. A consistory is a meeting of the College of Cardinals and the pope where new members are elevated to the cardinalate. The reason that one may be called this year is the relatively large number of cardinals to reach the age of 80 this and next year. Once they reach that age they can no longer participate in a conclave to elect a new pope. In 2010, 11 cardinals will turn 80 (one of them, Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto, today actually), followed by 9 more in 2011 (among them the only Dutch cardinal, Cardinal Simonis).

This’ll bring down the number of electors to 92 at the end of 2011, unless a consistory is called before that. And that seems very likely, not least because it is more than two years since the last one. The identity of the new cardinals is anyone’s guess, but perhaps an indication may be found by taking a look at where the future octogenarians are from.

Hardest hit will be New Zealand, Lebanon, Cameroon, Latvia and the Netherlands, who will lose all their electors. Who will take their place?

  • In New Zealand, the see of Wellington has usually been occupied by a cardinal, so Archbishop John Atcherley Dew could be up for elevation there.
  • In Cameroon, any of the five archbishops seems likely. The country has a short history when it comes to cardinals, but looking at the diocesan connections of current Cardinal Tumi and the time in office of the other archbishops, we may see either Simon-Victor Tonyé-Bakot of Yaoundé or Antoine Ntalou of Garoua.
  • For the Netherlands there is really only one likely candidate, and that is Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht. Recent archbishops of Utrecht have all eventually been elevated to the cardinalate, but the relatively short time in office of Archbishop Eijk may be reason to wait for a future consistory.
  • As for Latvia and Lebanon, any guess is as good as the next. Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats is still active as archbishop of Riga and has no clear successor yet, and in Lebanon the mix of various brands of Catholicism with their respective patriarchs and bishops offers a number of options.

In Asia, the Philippines and South Korea will lose half their electors.

  • With 16 archbishops, there are numerous options in the Philippines. Cebu Archbishop Vidal will turn 80 but is still active, and he has two auxiliaries, one of whom may succeed him.
  • The same goes for South Korean Cardinal Cheong Jin-Suk, who is still working as archbishop of Seoul. The country only has three archbishops, so the choices are more limited. Daegu is currently vacant, so maybe Archbishop Andreas Choi Chang-mou of Kwangju will be elevated.

Canada, France and Spain will each lose one-third of their electors, and Italy and the United States a little more than one-fifth. Any guess is as good as any with this approach, due to the sheer size and Catholic population of the countries.

Why is it important to keep the number of cardinals somewhat steady? Well, perhaps to maintain a relative decent representation of the world Church. That is the reason why, over the course of the past centuries, the maximum size of the College has been increased to 120 now (which is a relatively loose limit anyway). Small Church provinces, like the Netherlands, may be represented by a single cardinal, larger countries by more. The title of cardinal – it’s not an ordination or consecration –  is also given as a sign of office: high members of the curia in Rome may be elevated, or bishops of important dioceses. In fact, the title of cardinal is not limited to bishops, although in practice it usually is. When a priest is elevated to the cardinalate, he is usually also consecrated to bishop.

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