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VATICAN LETTER Feb-16-2006 (870 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

New cardinals? Rome buzzes with excitement as rumors fly

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sometime this year -- perhaps as early as March -- Pope Benedict XVI is expected to create his first batch of cardinals, a prospect that has already generated a buzz of excitement in Rome.

Vatican observers, especially journalists, tend to get overagitated when it comes to new cardinals. Since last summer, there have been at least three false alarms about impending consistories.

The current rumor is that the pope is preparing to name new cardinals in late February and invest them in late March. Holding a consistory during Lent would be unusual but not without precedent; Pope John XXIII did so twice in the 1960s.

The appointment of new cardinals is seen as a leading indicator of any papacy, but it's important to remember that, whenever Pope Benedict announces his choices, it will be a list that he has inherited in large part from his predecessor.

Of the 20 or so prelates most frequently mentioned as likely cardinal appointees, all but two were put in line for the red hat by Pope John Paul II. One of those two is Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the late pope's personal secretary, who in a sense will also be seen as a Pope John Paul selection.

Only U.S. Archbishop William J. Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is considered a Pope Benedict appointee in this "likely cardinal" list.

Archbishop Levada is one of three Roman Curia officials virtually certain to be named cardinal. The others are Slovenian Archbishop Franc Rode, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Italian Archbishop Agostino Vallini, head of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican's highest tribunal.

Other Roman Curia possibilities include German Archbishop Paul Cordes, head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum; U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; and Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

From the archdioceses around the world, potential cardinals include Archbishop Guadencio Rosales of Manila, Philippines; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland; French Archbishops Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris and Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux; Archbishop Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy; Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Archbishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong; Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, Vietnam; Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki of Nairobi, Kenya; and Spanish Archbishop Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo.

Others occasionally mentioned in the cardinal sweepstakes are archbishops from Monterrey, Mexico; Dakar, Senegal; Brasilia, Brazil; and Barcelona, Spain.

There are a number of things to watch for when the list is announced:

-- The numbers. There are currently 178 cardinals, of whom 110 are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. Two more cardinals turn 80 before March 25, the rumored date of the consistory.

The technical limit on the number of voting-age cardinals is 120. That means that if the pope respects that ceiling, he could name 12 new ones. The wild card factor is that Pope John Paul set aside the 120 limit more than once, swelling the ranks to as many as 135 under-80 cardinals. Pope Benedict, as supreme legislator, can also derogate, or suspend, this rule, but opinions are divided over whether he will do so.

-- The mix. If he wanted to, the pope could fill half the cardinal vacancies with Roman Curia officials. But the trend under Pope John Paul was toward more archdiocesan cardinals, and not always from places that were traditional cardinal sees.

People also will be looking carefully at the geographic distribution, to see if Pope Benedict continues his predecessor's wider distribution of red hats in the Third World.

-- The over-80 cardinals. Popes often have named one or two elderly cardinals as a sign of respect or appreciation. Often, they have been nonbishop theologians. Given the pope's background in dealing with Catholic theologians, there is great interest in his potential choices.

One rumor reported by The Times of London in early January was that the pope's over-80 cardinal nominations might include Msgr. Graham Leonard, a former Anglican bishop of London who was ordained a Catholic priest in 1994. If that happens, beyond the ecumenical implications, the College of Cardinals would have its first married member in several centuries.

Whenever it happens, Pope Benedict's first consistory will also offer clues about how he intends to use the College of Cardinals during his papacy. Pope John Paul turned to the cardinals several times for advice, convening them in Rome for discussions on such topics as church finances, anti-abortion strategies and pastoral goals for the new millennium.

Given that Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, helped plan and preside over some of these "extraordinary consistories," many expect him to keep up this type of consultation.

As he looks ahead, the pope no doubt realizes that putting a personal stamp on the College of Cardinals is a long process. During his 26-year papacy, Pope John Paul called nine consistories to create 231 cardinals; in the end, he had named all but two of the 115 cardinals who elected his successor.


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