Approaching the bottom line – looking ahead to a 2012 consistory

The late Cardinal Foley

With yesterday’s passing of John Cardinal Foley, Grand Master emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the number of cardinals able to vote in a conclave (ie. those under 80) has dropped to 109. A consistory creating new cardinals sometime in 2012 seems increasingly likely, especially considering the fact that in that year another 13 cardinals* will become octogenarians, bringing the number of electors down to 96, the lowest it’s been since, as far as I can gather, 2001. In the recent history of the college, whenever the number drops below 100, consistories would usually follow fairly soon after.

Not that numbers are magical or in any way legally binding. The maximum number of cardinal electors is set at 120, although popes are free to create more than that or raise or lower that limit. Blessed John Paul II has done the former several times, for example. Although numbers do play a role, cardinals are not created to fill up the roster, so to speak. But we can use the numbers as indicators. Next year, as the forces of old age bring the number lower and lower, Pope Benedict XVI may wish to look towards the future and prepare for the election of his successor. Obviously, he can do so by deciding who receives the red hat.

The buzz these days is that a consistory may be scheduled for the end of the new year, much like the last one, which took place at the end of November of 2010.

Lastly, as for the likely cardinalibile, much is guesswork.Two reasonably likely candidates in these parts of the world, however, are Archbishops Wim Eijk of Utrecht and Vincent Nichols of Westminster. Their respective predecessors (Cardinals Simonis and Murphy-O’Connor) have recently turned 80 or will do so in 2012. Since Pope Benedict has an unofficial policy of not appointing new cardinals in areas with an existing cardinal below 80, these archbishops now run a fair chance at the red hat.

Photo credit: AP Photo

*These, emeriti all, are: José Card. Saraiva Martins (Congr. Causes of Saints), Joseph Card. Zen Ze-kiun (Hong Kong), Rodolfo Card. Quezada Toruño (Guatemala), Edward Card. Egan (New York), Miloslav Card. Vlk (Prague), Henri Card. Schwery (Sion), James Card. Stafford (Denver, Apostolic Penitentiary), Gaudencio Card. Rosales (Manila), Cormac Card. Murphy-O’Connor (Westminster), Pedro Card. Rubiano Sáenz (Bogotá), Francis Card. Arinze (Onitsha, Congr. Divine Worship & Discipline Sacraments), Renato Card. Martino (Pont. Council Justice & Peace) and Eusébio Card. Scheid (Rio de Janeiro).

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