Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, August 09, 2010

Musings on the next Consistory

In the mood for some completely personal musings on an important topic that none of us have the slightest control over? Okay, how about papal elections? Rome basically shuts down in August, and here in the USA summer vacation is winding its way toward Labor Day. So it’s a great time to speculate on the next Consistory, rumored to be scheduled for as early as this Fall, but more likely in the Spring of 2011. Or, not. We'll see.

Setting aside a few variations in their modern structure, Consistories are chiefly important in that new cardinals are formally named thereat, and it's cardinals (under the age of 80) who elect popes. Since the time of Paul VI, the number of eligible electors in the College of Cardinals has been officially capped at 120 (pace John Paul II, who at one time had some 133 eligible electors on the list!). Benedict XVI is not likely to exceed the cap, nor will he, at age 83, lightly assume that he will have several more chances to shape the College over the years. So, if he wants to impact the direction of the College of Cardinals, my guess is, he will do so at his next opportunity.

If the Consistory were held today, Benedict could name 13 new cardinal electors; if he waits till the end of August he could name 14, and if he goes into October he could appoint 17, maybe 18. That would be a sizeable class, and some significant reshaping could be accomplished by naming so many new cardinals at one time.

Now, all credible observers agree that America will get at least two red hats, and most predict at least three. But I want to suggest that we could see at least four, and perhaps as many as five or six, Americans named to the College of Cardinals.

Consider: Most American cardinals (pace O’Malley and DiNardo) fall into two tight age groups: Keeler, Law, Egan, and Stafford turn 80 quite soon, between March 2011 and July 2012, and a second group, Rigali, Foley, Mahony, Levada, and George, turns 80 from April 2015 to January 2017. The first group is more significant from an appointment “timing” point of view.

Despite the close Catholic demographics that obtain between the US and Italy, there are currently 19 eligible Italian papal electors but only 11 Americans. One may therefore suggest that, either Italy is over-represented in the College of Cardinals or, at the least, the US is under-represented. Moreover, between now and July 2012 (when Stafford turns 80), the disproportion between the US and Italy will widen as each country loses four more electors.

Therefore, even assuming that no Italians are named next time around (unlikely, that), naming even three Americans at the next Consistory will not suffice even to maintain the current lopsided ratio. Only by naming four Americans does the pope prevent the discrepancy from widening, and only by naming five or even six Americans does he narrow the gap. Not eliminate it, obviously, but narrow it. And I think that could be a good thing.

A final thought: to date, Benedict has named six Italians to the College, but only four Americans. What that might mean...well, who knows?

PS: Yes indeed, I’ve got six good American suggestions, but—for the record—no one on the far side of the Atlantic has called. Or even left a message. :)