Vatican, Dec. 29 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI may soon name new members of the College of Cardinals, according to rumors in the Italian press.
The ADN Kronos news agency has gone so far as to say that the Pope will call a consistory for February 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Citing "informed Vatican sources," ADN Kronos said that the consistory will be announced-- and presumably the new cardinals will be identified-- on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.
The rumors of a consistory have circulated quickly in Rome. Pope Benedict and his immediate staff aides have closely guarded the confidentiality of the Pope's thoughts and policy decisions. The sudden burst of public speculation could signal that news of the pending consistory has passed beyond the pontifical household.
The timing also seems right for a consistory. The College of Cardinals now has 111 members who are below the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a papal conclave; the regulations established by Pope Paul VI in 1975 allow for 120 cardinal-electors.
Moreover, there are many leading prelates who appear to qualify for red hats. For example, Archbishops William Levada and Fran Rodé are now prefects of major Vatican congregations-- the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Religious, respectively-- whose leaders have always been cardinals.
Other Vatican officials who could join the College of Cardinals might include Archbishop Agostino Vallini, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue; and even potentially Archbishop John Foley, the American-born president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Moreover, there are many archdioceses around the world which are traditionally led by prelates with the rank of cardinal. Archbishops André Vingt-Trois of Paris, France; Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain; João Bráz de Aviz of Brasilia, Brazil; and Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland would be among the leading candidates for the College of Cardinals.
The timing of a consistory could also be tied to the announcement of new appointments to the leadership of the Roman Curia. Several prominent Vatican officials have now served well beyond the ordinary retirement age of 75. Most prominent among these is the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is now 78 and has held his current post for 14 years. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the governor of the Vatican city-state, is also 78. Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos will turn 77 in July, by which time he will have served over 10 years as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.
Other Vatican officials who have passed their 75th birthdays include Cardinals Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants; Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
If he does announce a consistory, Pope Benedict is likely to make some unexpected appointments, offering evidence of his own policies and priorities. A cardinal's red hat is the highest honor that the Pope can bestow on a living cleric.
During his long pontificate Pope John Paul II held nine ordinary consistories, naming 231 cardinals, of whom 169 are still alive.
There has not been a consistory since October 2003, when Pope John Paul II named 30 new cardinals and created 2 others in pectore-- that is, secretly. Since Pope John Paul died without having revealed the identity of those two prelates, they cannot assume their role as cardinals unless the deceased Pontiff left behind some indication of their identity.