What’s so surprising about that “surprise” consistory? UPDATED

At Catholic Culture, Phil Lawler has an informative piece on this week’s announcement that the Pope will create six new cardinals at a consistory next month. That this is a “surprise” move—and the first time two sets of cardinals have been named in the same year—has been noted all over, but Lawler’s piece breaks down exactly what makes the Holy Father’s decision so unexpected and even—gasp! —mysterious:

The Pope could have named other cardinals who were over the age of 80, and thus not eligible as electors, but he chose to keep the number of new cardinals unusually small, selecting only a half-dozen. The last time a Pontiff named such a small class of new cardinals was in June 1977, when Pope Paul VI raised only four men to the College. …

In 1977 Pope Paul’s health was failing, and the June consistory was to be his last one. Some Vatican-watchers have questioned whether Pope Benedict is sensing that his own time is limited, and has called the consistory quickly to be sure that he leaves no important business undone. But none of the Pope’s six selections seem to represent urgent appointments. And more important there is no known reason, aside from his advancing age (he is now 85), to believe that Pope Benedict is nearing the end of his reign. So the Pope’s reasons for his sudden announcement and quick consistory remain mysterious.

Lawler also sees a possible connection to this week’s other big headline out of the Vatican – the sentencing of the Pope’s former butler Paolo Gabriele in the “Vatileaks” scandal. One of the cardinals-elect, Archbishop James Michael Harvey—the only American in the new class of cardinals—has been head of the papal household for many years:

As he announced that Archbishop Harvey would become a cardinal, Pope Benedict also revealed that he would name the American prelate as archpriest of the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. This too is an unusual appointment, since the status of archpriest is usually conferred on a prelate close to retirement age. … The news that Archbishop Harvey will enter the College of Cardinals comes just a day after a Vatican tribunal released its formal verdict in the case of Paolo Gabriele. Is it possible to ignore the fact that Gabriele was a member of the pontifical household, under Archbishop Harvey’s supervision? 

Read the full piece here.

Meanwhile, Marco Tosatti at Vatican Insider doesn’t think the announcement of the consistory—or the selection of cardinals—is very surprising at all.

UPDATE (10/28/12): Yesterday, on the final working day for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict addressed all those present, and mentioned briefly his reasons for adding new members to the College of Cardinals:

I would also like to express my cordial greetings to the new Cardinals. With this little Consistory I wanted to complete the Consistory of February, in the context of the new evangelization, with a gesture of the universality of the Church, showing that the Church is the Church of all peoples, she speaks in all languages, she is always a Church of Pentecost; not the Church of one continent, but a universal Church. This was precisely my intention, to express this in this context, this universality of the Church, which is also the beautiful expression of this Synod. For me it was really uplifting, comforting and encouraging to see here a reflection of the universal Church with its suffering, threats, dangers and joys, experiences of the Lord’s presence, even in difficult situations. 

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.