Thursday, January 05, 2012

F.Y.I.: Countdown to the Inevitable Dept.

Rumors are out that Pope Benedict XVI is soon to name a group of new cardinals, some perhaps even today. It will be interesting to see who they are, and where they come from.

Cardinals, who elect the pope, lose their status as electors on their 80th birthday. This means that 14 of the 113 current electors will lose the right to vote during 2012. The canonical total is 120, so it is possible that Benedict will name as many as 19 cardinals in the coming year. Of the 14, two are Americans, one is English, and only one is Italian. (No, we don't keep tabs on this ourselves. But this guy does, and we've just bookmarked his page.)

Historically, Italians made up the great bulk of the College; that has ceased to be true in modern times, although they are still well-represented. La Stampa's "Vatican Insider" column predicts that more Italians will enter the college than leave it, perhaps six of them. It even gives names, and explains some of the canonical questions in play. On the other hand, Zuhlsdorf simply grunts a prayer that few of the new cardinals will be Italian.

Although such things as language and nationality ought not to matter, they do, at least a little. People sometimes speak of "voting blocs," and while we doubt that there is anything so crass among the cardinals, it would be shocking if there were not strong opinions about the right or wrong direction for their church. Likewise, it would be surprising if the fundamental convictions which shaped those opinions were not themselves shaped by education and culture. So, while it is certainly not true that all Italians (or English speakers, or Africans) think alike, it seems reasonable to suppose that the members of each group may hold out similar hopes for a future pope.

What are those hopes? It is hard for an outsider to know. We gather that the Italians lean a bit more toward John XXIII that some of their colleagues, but we really aren't expert in this sort of thing. Given the vast number of cardinals appointed by John Paul II during his long reign, not to mention the orientation of his successor, it seems unlikely that these old-time hippies will see their dreams come true, at least this side of Paradise.

Mind you, we hope that the cardinals need cast no vote in conclave anytime soon. Benedict, at 84, appears to be in good health -- some heart problems, a minor stroke or two, but nothing surprising for a man of his age. His powerful intellect seems unimpaired; we are eager to read his Jesus books. But life is unpredictable, and becomes more so as it grows longer. Surely Benedict (who predicted a short reign for himself) is thinking about the choice of a successor, and giving great care to the selection of those who will make that choice.

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