I was vacationing in Acadia last week and only heard about this ‘irregularity’ when a follower of this blog asked for my opinion on the matter via a comment. I looked it up. My first reaction was shock and disappointment. This iconoclastic pope had arbitrarily put asunder a much cherished and venerated tradition going back to 769 AD (i.e., 1,249 years ago). One of my ex papal collaborators talking about this in an e-mail characterized it as: “how the never-met-an-applecart-he-wouldn’t-upset Pope“.
What is upsetting ‘us’ is the change because whatever folks say most people don’t at heart believe in “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“. So, I decided to look beyond just the disconcertment caused by this change.
Yes, of course, the seven suburbicarian sees, i.e., the seven Catholic dioceses surrounding Rome, are real, but that in the end is also somewhat artificial in the scheme of things post 1163 when Pope Alexander III (#171) introduced the notion of TITULAR cardinals, i.e., cardinals that were assigned a ‘Roman’ dioceses though they were NOT the bishop of that diocese. Today, (and I have not checked of late) nearly every cardinal, irrespective of whether a Cardinal Bishop, Cardinal Priest or Cardinal Deacon, is TITULAR, i.e, they do not actually perform any day-to-day diocesan duties in the see that has been given to them. This becoming the case for ALL the suburbicarian sees and their Cardinal Bishops as of 1910. So, as of 1163 the entire notion of cardinals has been compromised, diluted and abstracted. So, to I, that was the beginning of a very slippery road (with many arcane twists and turns). This move by Pope Francis just another of those twists.
Furthermore, the stratification of the cardinals is purely for ceremonial purposes, i.e., who goes ahead of another in processing and when they vote at a conclave. Other than that, when it comes to power and influence, all cardinals are meant to be equal. So, there is that.
Then there is the whole ‘Rome has spoken, case is closed‘ aspect. The pope is the world’s ultimate autocrat. When it comes to Catholicism and the Catholic Church he can really do whatever he wants. There are no checks and balances. The College of Cardinals CANNOT veto a papal decision. Moreover, of all matters Catholic, there is nothing more arbitrary and capricious as the College of Cardinals. Popes CREATE cardinals — and that it is called ‘creates’ is very significant. The College is also very much a creation of the popes. The popes can do whatever when it comes to cardinals and the College.
Pope Paul VI (#263) in 1970 decreed that cardinals over the age of 80 could no longer participate in conclaves. That was an artificial restriction. Three years later he mandated that only 120 cardinals can participate in a conclave. Since then every succeeding pope (bar the 33-day John Paul I (#264) has exceeded the 120 cardinal elector limit though we have yet to have a conclave when that number has been greater than 120. So, popes have had their merry way with the College.
This is but the latest example. So, after much reflection, I came to the conclusion that while it is ‘irregular’ there is nothing wrong with what the pope did!
I, however, will have more posts on this topic since there are other implications.
Check Category ‘religion’.
Search ‘cardinals‘, ‘consistory‘ & ‘pope‘.