There are new positions opening up in the College of Cardinals as various current members reach the age limit for cardinal electors: At the end of 2013 there will be 12 vacancies and 16 next March, with 120 cardinals currently eligible to vote.
Brazilian cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Salvador de Bahia and former Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship turns 80 today.
This brings the number of cardinals who are eligible to vote in a future Conclave, down to 109 and this will drop to 108 on Christmas Day, when the Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner turns 80 too.
Cardinal Meisner is a personal friend of Benedict XVI’s. His position had been confirmed for a further five years.
117 cardinals were eligible to vote in the Conclave that elected Pope Francis after Ratzinger’s historic resignation. Benedict XVI held two consistories in 2012, one in February and one in November.
The November one had much fewer participants and aimed to put right any unfairness shown in the previous one which many observers claimed had too many Italian and Curia members.
In the end, only 115 cardinals voted in the last Conclave, after two of them - Keith Michael O’Brien (who was accused of sexually abusing seminarians years ago) and the Indonesian Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadj – resigned.
Next year, 12 cardinals will lose eligibility to vote in a future Conclave. Four of them will turn 80 between January and March 2014. Only the Ecuadorian Eduardo Vela Chiriboga, the Vietnamese Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man and the Italians Giovanni Battista Re and Dionigi Tettamanzi.
“Another four cardinals will lose their cardinal elector status between January and March bringing the number of cardinal electors down to 104. That is if new cardinals are not created during Francis’ first consistory as it looks likely they will,” Vatican journalist Luis Badilla wrote on Italian Catholic blog Il Sismografo.
The journalist’s words seem to indicate that the Pope may create new cardinals in the coming months.
At least 16 new cardinals under the age of 80 could be created to replace the over 80s at the end of March and this number could rise to 20 as there are another four cardinals who will be losing voting eligibility between March and the start of September.
In the Roman Curia there are three prelates who occupy cardinals’ posts: the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwing Müller, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Beniamino Stella and the new Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin.
Parolin has officially replaced Tarcisio Bertone but has not yet begun his duties because of an operation he had to undergo a few days ago.
The leaders of a number of archdioceses (Turin and Venice in Italy) which traditionally produced a lot of cardinals have not been given the biretta. But it would be premature to make any predictions now.
In the next few months the Curia’s structures and organisation will be radically reshaped and the process of confirming and replacing members will be complete.
It is not known for certain what criteria Francis will use when selecting the new cardinals.