Wednesday, March 08, 2006

THE CONSISTORY: In the Pope's Heart

Well, we're 16 days from the consistory which will elevate 15 prelates to the College of Cardinals. As the magic date of 24 March draws nearer, I'd like do a little piece here, a little bit there on the College, the various aspects of its role in the life of the church and how it operates.

Then again, if you want to make God laugh, you tell him your plans. Nevertheless, I will try.

It's been said that there's no greater secret in the world than the identity of a prince of the church named in pectore -- that is, literally "in the [Pope's] breast." And, to a great extent, this is true.

The Pope's capacity to name a man a cardinal without revealing his identity to anyone has aroused sensational interest through the years. No less a Vatican animal than the late Malachi Martin crafted a story in which an American priest who had been named to the College in such a way and whose elevation was made known on the papal deathbed was himself elected to Peter's chair.

But there's not all that much to it, at least relative to the buzz the concept musters.

The in pectore process was devised to allow the Pope to honor clerics in perilous situations without putting their lives or safety in jeopardy. If a pontiff decides to create a cardinal in such a manner, he simply places the name in a sealed envelope, which remains in the care of his private secretary until the moment arrives -- that is, if it arrives -- at which he sees fit to announce his choice. At the outset, it's simply announced that there is a new cardinal in pectore. Even the honoree is kept unawares.

Though the publication may not happen for years, once his name is revealed and he's given the red hat, the previously-hidden prince enjoys retroactive seniority from the time his name was placed in the envelope. If the Pope dies and the designee's name remains in the envelope, it and its contents are destroyed and the identity remains a mystery in perpetuum.

John Paul II created four in pectore cardinals during his pontificate, but we only know the identities of three.

The first came at his first consistory, held on 27 May 1979. But it wasn't until 1991 when the late Pope revealed that the red hat belonged to Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei of Shanghai, who had been imprisoned by Chinese authorities for the better part of three decades before being freed and moving to Connecticut in 1988.

A month before his 90th birthday, at the 1991 consistory Kung ascended the steps of the Paul VI Hall to receive his biretta from John Paul. Despite the Pope's prodding him to stay standing, Kung knelt as the crowd of 6,000 rose and cheered wildly, drowning out the formula of conferral. Kung's story made him the "star" of the gathering. He returned to the US, where he died in 2000 at the age of 98.

The other two whom we know of weren't as glamorous, but both appointments were kept hidden for over two years, also due to political reasons.

At his 1998 cardinal-making session, the late Pope named two prelates in pectore. Wild speculation flew that the honorees were, as was the case with Kung, persecuted Chinese clerics.

In 2001, that thesis was proven grossly erroneous as the names of Archbishops Janis Pujats of Riga (Latvia) and Marian Jaworski of Lviv of the Latins (Ukraine) were revealed. Pujats' name was kept under so as not to impact negotiations over a new concordat between the Holy See and Latvia, which were taking place in early 1998. The appointment of Jaworski -- a lifelong friend of Karol Wojtyla's who lost a hand in a train accident while running an errand for the future Pope -- seemed to be delayed in an attempt to not inflame the Orthodox, particularly the Moscow patriarchate. If anything, Jaworski's belated receipt of the red hat at the 2001 consistory alongside his then-fellow archbishop of Lviv, Lubomyr Husar, further exacerbated Moscow's skepticism over Rome's intentions in what the former considers its canonical territory.

Conferring his last batch of birettas in October 2003, on the occasion of his silver jubilee as Pope, John Paul announced that he had created yet another in pectore cardinal, his fourth.

As he never published the nominee's identity, the appointment died with him.

Cardinal Kung Foundation