Saturday, June 18, 2005

Princely Rank and Precedence

Pio Laghi tells a great Philly story. Only thing is, it happened in Chicago.

When Laghi -- apostolic delegate to the US at the time, now a cardinal retired from the Curia -- installed Bernardin in the Windy City in 1982, he noted that the papal bull naming Bernardin referred to Chicago as maxima -- in Latin, the "greatest," ostensibly because of its size.

As Laghi said it, "No sooner did I mention this when a voice which sounded suspiciously like that of Cardinal Krol [the third Philadelphia Pharaoh] was heard to exclaim, 'Maxima, forsa, sed non optima!'" -- "Perhaps the largest, but not the best!"

Almost twenty years after Krol's retirement, and a decade after his death, that anecdote says a lot about how Philadelphia church sees itself, then and now. But the quote could well inform a decision that B16 has coming on his hands when he announces a new batch of cardinals in the forseeable future.

Even before the death of John Paul, there had been much talk that the Americans were in for a reshuffling of red hats to meet the demographic recomposition of the US church, with the former East Coast Catholic masses now spread across the Sun Belt of the South and West.

It's important to note that, for the first 50 years of American cardinals after John McCloskey of New York got his red hat in 1875, the number of US princes of the church was frozen at three -- the first berths going to New York, Boston and Baltimore. And whenever a new one was elevated, the celebrations were huge. In 1921, the first Philadelphia cardinal, Dennis Dougherty, was welcomed back to America with a tickertape parade in New York. And this town hasn't been celebrated in the Big Apple ever since....

Since roughly the 1960s, the heads of US archdioceses with Catholic populations exceeding 1 million were almost automatically raised to membership in the College of Cardinals. As precious few jurisdictions meet this criteria, the names are pretty familiar: LA, Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit. Despite its relatively small population of 600,000, Washington's status as the capital see keeps it on the list.

But could this practice of cardinalatial sees change? Does maxima immediately connote optima? It is a crucial question, one which could show Benedict XVI's hand on the question of a smaller, more faithful church, and the practice of mega-dioceses within it.

I once brought this up with a Ratzinger-favored bishop over dinner. "I don't like the practice of cardinalatial sees," the bishop told me. "It encourages too much positioning among bishops who want to get them and, because of all the obligations, de-personalizes the role of the bishop." He went on to say that, if he could have his way, no diocese would be larger than 400,000 people, so the bishop can be relatively close to his people, without the massive bureaucracies which mark the large urban dioceses.

It was a refreshing view, a very pastoral one. But, as cardinals are a necessity (we wouldn't have a pope without one), and every pope re-jiggers the selection process a bit to fit his view, B16's experience is very rich.

This can't be underestimated: for the first time since the 1600s, the cardinal-dean became Pope.

As Dean, Cardinal Ratzinger presided over the daily general congregations of the cardinals where the state of the church was discussed. According to several accounts, he knew each cardinal -- and, presumably, his background as well -- by name. He encouraged the Third Worlders to speak up more, and tried to curtail the First Worlders who spoke too much. As a curialist of two decades, he knows the international picture better than anyone, and he knows the global south is underrepresented in the college. Moreover, he knows what he's looking for in cardinals, but his predecessor's appointments might hinder him as regard certain customs.

So while JP felt somewhat tradition-bound in the area of cardinals, if B16 prefers the work-ethic and pastoral leadership of, say, the archbishop of Santa Fe or Atlanta to that of the archbishop of a traditionally cardinalatial see, this Pope would have no inhibitions to elevate the guy from the less-prominent place to the College. He knows from experience the power the red hat has to energize a local church, and he knows (as John Paul did) that some off-the-radar communities could use the boost.

Usually, the Deanship of the cardinals is a nice honorific. But Ratzinger worked at it and learned the college inside and out. That education will make his first consistory, whenever it comes, a concrete teaching moment of where he wants to take things.



Blogger Sr. Bernadette M. Reis, fsp said...

I totally agree with smaller dioceses--going back to a smaller diocese would mean going back to the early experience of Church. How can we reclaim the first millennium experience of church while holding on to valid second millennium evolutions and letting go of others that no longer are of service. One has to be reminded that any man in the church can be a cardinal. Reserving this privilege to Metropolitans is one of those evolutionary experiences that can and perhaps should change.
Sr. Bernadette

20/6/05 08:14  

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