Wednesday, October 24, 2012

B16's October Surprise – Pope Calls Shock Consistory for 24 November

In an announcement that seems to have taken everyone by surprise, this morning the Pope called Red Dawn, announcing the elevation of six new cardinals at a consistory scheduled for 24 November, the vigil of the feast of Christ the King.

In order of their announcement, the cardinals-designate are:
  • Archbishop James Harvey, 63, the Milwaukee-born prefect of the Papal Household (who, Benedict said today, he will soon name as archpriest of the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls);
  • Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, 72, the Lebanon-based head of the worldwide, 5 million-member Maronite church;
  • Major Archbishop Basilios Cleemis, 53, head of India's Syro-Malankara church – the first hierarch from the 600,000-member community to receive the red hat (and, by two years, set to become the youngest cardinal);
  • Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja (Nigeria), 68
  • Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogotá, 70
  • Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, 55; head of Asia's largest diocese
The new intake – the second one of this year following the creation of 22 in February – will be Benedict XVI's fifth turn at topping up the College which will elect his successor. 

Following the gathering, the number of cardinal-electors will be restored to its statutory maximum of 120 red-hats under age 80, a figure from which the pontiff "derogated" earlier this year to add five additional members. During his pontificate, John Paul II had ballooned the Electoral College to a size as high as 135 voters.

While two of the voting seats to be filled only come open within the next month, at least an additional 11 electoral spots will be freed up in 2013 as their current holders "age out" of Conclave privileges. Given the relative flood of vacancies, a consistory – normally foreseen weeks, if not months, in advance – had previously been expected for sometime in the first part of next year.
Notably, the "mini-consistory" is the smallest to be called since Paul VI's final intake of four cardinals in June 1977, at which Papa Montini elevated the freshly-ordained 50 year-old archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger (above). 

That gathering was known as the "Benelli consistory" for its linchpin figure – the longtime Curial titan Giovanni Benelli, who had been dispatched to Florence earlier that month amid heavy speculation that the move reflected his status as Paul's preferred successor. 

In other words, the small intake was seen as a frail pontiff's taking care of his "unfinished business." Whether that's the case again, of course, time will tell, but the sudden move is bound to fan concerns over the 85 year-old Pope's health. 

Either way, the snap announcement does assuage two significant critiques of Benedict's recent elevation classes: first, an "excessive" distribution of seats to Italians – none of whom made today's cut – at the expense of diocesan bishops from Asia, Latin America and Africa. 

Given the group's size, meanwhile, it seems fairly certain that the organizational chaos which has seen seen several thousand ticket-holders – including relatives of the new cardinals – kept out of St Peter's Basilica at the last several consistories due to repeated overallotments of seating won't be an issue again this time.

In a break from usual practice, all of the diocesan cardinals-designate but one (Salazar) are in Rome for the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization, and so are unable to mark today's announcement with their communities at home. Reflecting the degree to which the move was unforeseen, statements on the elevations have yet to emerge from the dioceses of the far-flung designates.

The Synod closes on Sunday with a papal Mass inside St Peter's.

SVILUPPO: Additional notes/background.... and for the latest, continuing updates on the Front Page.