Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification.
Right-thinking, fair-minded friends of the Catholic Church in England and Wales can only but hope and pray that on the night of Friday, January 6 — Feast of the Epiphany and the day of the announcement of the list of cardinals to be created on February 18 — that as he knelt at his bedside, rosary beads entwined in hands, head on same hands, eyes grimly shut, his prayers a personal, human and spiritual, struggle, the Holy Spirit came to Archbishop Vincent Nichols’s rescue, dispelling his confusion and hauling him back from the abyss of despair by reminding him of John Donne’s most apposite words.
For make no mistake, this was a humiliation for Archbishop Nichols. And it was meant to be.
Pope Benedict has so far been reluctant to exceed the limit of 120 cardinal electors first stipulated by Pope Paul VI. However, he has twice allowed himself a little leeway. For example, after the last consistory there were in fact 121 cardinal electors but that was only going to be for a few weeks.
This time, because of the need to have a balance in the list of new cardinals between curial prelates and archbishops from around the world, His Holiness has had to allow himself significantly more leeway. There are certain front rank positions within, or associated with, the Vatican which must be filled by a cardinal, or an archbishop who will be raised to that dignity at the first opportunity. These number 22 in all but to fill them requires only 21 men. (The Pope’s Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome is also the archpriest of the Basilica of St John Lateran.)
On the day of the announcement, eight of these posts were held by archbishops. In addition, there were two Archbishop Presidents of Pontifical Councils who merited elevation. They were passed over last time as there would have been just too many Italians on the list. These are Archbishops Antonio Mario Veglio (No 4 on the list) and Francesco Coccopalmerio (No 6). It would simply have been unfair, and have been seen to be unfair, if they were passed over again.
So, eight places in the College of Cardinal Electors HAD to go to the curia and a further two, in fairness, ought to; and did. But how many places were available?
José Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated his 80th birthday on the day of the announcement and Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, was due to celebrate his one week later, on January 13. This meant that the roll of the cardinal electors was down to 107. Thus His Holiness could order 13 ponceau red birettas from the brothers Gammarelli, Filippo and Annibale.
But he ordered 18.
Having concluded that a list comprised of ten Vatican prelates and only three from the world’s dioceses was too imbalanced in favour of the curia, Pope Benedict took into account the fact that five cardinals were due to celebrate their 80th birthdays during the five calendar months following the consistory; one in each month, the last on July 26 (the American Cardinal Stafford).
Significantly, by doing so he was able to include the last two cardinal electors named in the list, Archbishops Dolan (New York) and Duka (Prague) (not to be confused with Dukla Prague!).
But why five months? Why not six? Half a year is better than five twelfths. And it would make for a sensible and simple rule: The maximum number of 120 cardinal electors can be temporarily exceeded by the Pope taking into account those cardinals who will attain their 80th birthday in the six calendar months following the month in which a consistory is held.
What would have been the effect this time? His Holiness would have had another two birettas to go round. Cardinals Rosales (Manila) and Murphy-O’Connor will both be 80 in August (10 and 24 respectively). Thus he would have been free to elevate both of their successors, respectively Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle and Archbishop Nichols. After all, theirs are the two most important “red hat” sees outside of Italy which currently do not have a cardinal archbishop.
In addition, this would have brought a numerical balance to the list: ten curial and ten diocesan cardinals-elect. What could be, or, rather, look, fairer than that? So why didn’t it happen? Why did His Holiness not avail himself of the opportunity of utilising two days short of one month?
Contrary to what some have suggested, there is absolutely no problem with Archbishop Tagle. It may, or may not, have been the case that it was only after they had nominated him as Archbishop that the members of the Congregation for Bishops found out about his connection to the Bologna School and the hermeneutic of disruption. Personally, I find that hard to believe, while granting that it may have been the case for some less theologically adept members, like Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. But could anyone seriously suggest that the Pope himself was unaware of it?
In the 1990s, as Cardinal Prefect of the Suprema, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger appointed Fr Tagle to the International Theological Commission. Are we expected to take seriously any suggestion that he did so ignorant of what is being portrayed in some quarters as a sort of youthful indiscretion? Moreover, when any priest or prelate is being considered for promotion to, or within, the episcopacy, the CDF have to sign off on it precisely because they are supposed to know about such things as who belongs to this or that theological school; who has written this or that contentious, or otherwise, book, or article, or thesis. And in 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger signed off on the nomination of Fr Tagle for the See of Imus, suffragan of Manila.
No, there was no problem with Archbishop Tagle.
Archbishop Nichols was another matter altogether. Archbishop Tagle was sacrificed, as it were, to make Archbishop Nichols’s omission from the list appear less brutal.
Of course, being Scottish I couldn’t possibly speculate on the reasons behind all this. But rumours of the Cardinal Vaughan fiasco, the apparent acceptance of civil same-sex partnerships and the less than helpful, arguably obstructionist, attitude to the Ordinariate have percolated north of the border.
And of a certainty they have been heard in the Apostolic Palace. Maybe that is why Archbishop Nichols is hopping about, smoking gun in hand, smouldering hole in foot, and no ponceau red biretta on head, or on order.