Waiting for the final five

general congregationThere seems to be a general trend in the media to wonder what on Earth is keeping the five “absentee electors”. Cardinals Lehmann, Pham Minh Man, Nycz, Tong Hon and Naguib have missed the first three general congregations, although they are expected to arrive in Rome today or tomorrow. is it because they do not consider their duties in Rome very important, or because of travel distance, or something else altogether?

While we obviously can’t say anything about what any cardinal considers important, it is a safe bet to say that the entire College of Cardinals is well aware of their duties these days. Travel distance is also no longer a good excuse, not even for Cardinals Pham Minh Man and Tong Hon, who have to come from Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong respectively.

That leaves “something else” as a possible explanation. The five cardinals mentioned above all have on thing in common: they are ordinaries of a diocese, which is where their first responsibilities lie. So the explanation can be as simple as that: other duties kept the cardinals in Mainz, Ho Chi Minh City, Warsaw, Hong Kong and Alexandria a while longer. Is that a slight towards the other cardinals already gathered in Rome, or an attempt to influence the start date of the conclave? That is a standpoint that is far too cynical for my taste.

And in the case of Cardinal Naguib there is the added fact that his health is not as good as it once was. His recent retirement as Patriarch of the Coptic Catholics of Egypt  was also granted for the same reason.

Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano

The waiting game – everything’s temporary in the sede vacante

napier collins general congregationIn a sede vacante, nothing, it seems, is permanent, not even the daily running of the Holy See. While Cardinals Bertone and Sodano, as Camerlengo and Dean of the College of Cardinals respectively, have certain specific duties, these do not extend as far as the duties that a Pope or the Curia in normal circumstances would have. We are all waiting, in this period, for normalcy to resume, but for that we need a visible head, a new Supreme Pontiff.

In the meantime, starting this morning, the cardinals are presented with the current affairs in the Church during their General Congregations and if a situation calls for it they can act together, or task one of their own to perform his duties as he would when there is a Pope. In the case of Cardinal Bertone, he is aided by three cardinals, one each from the orders of bishops, priests and deacons, in managing the Holy See. These three cardinals are appointed for three days only, another indication of the impermanence of their authority. For the first three-day period, which started yesterday and will end tomorrow, the names of Cardinals Giovanni Re, Crescenzio Sepe and Franc Rode were drawn by lot.

The actual decisions and actions undertaken during the General Congregations, and of course the conclave, are subject to an oath of secrecy that the cardinals made yesterday morning. Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (pictured above with Cardinal Collins before the start of the first Congregation), who is perhaps the most active tweeting cardinal at the moment, told his followers this morning: “Given that Pledge of Confidentiality covers matters discussed in General Congregations, only very general comments can be made. Keep praying.” Several cardinals have already shut down their Twitter account or gone radio silent until after the conclave. A full list of twittering cardinals can be found here.

But in the meantime, while much may get done, we are still awaiting the arrival of the final cardinal electors. Only after they arrive can a date for the conclave be decided upon. Until then, with the final arrived expected to be Hong Kong’s Cardinal John Tong Hon sometime tomorrow, the cardinals will continue meeting once a day in the morning.

Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano