Thanks to Father John, Darien N. Clark, Louis Epstein and ‘Piotrek’ of Poland, ‘next consistory‘ fever is now becoming contagious. When this starts to happen I think about recalculating, from scratch, the available Roman ‘church’ titles and deaconries to make sure that people don’t get too worried that the pope may not have enough ‘titles’ to go around (not that the pope, per his immediate predecessors, cannot create new ‘titles’ at whim). But, as I was thinking about this, while out running, it occurred to me that we have seen very few changes in the suburbicarian sees since this pope was elected — his election, per se, freeing up one see (and Ostia) given that he was not only a Cardinal Bishop but the Dean of the College as well (thus automatically getting Ostia in addition to his prior title).
Quick quiz. When did the last suburbicarian see Cardinal Bishop die? Who was he? What was ‘special’ about him and why is his death significant right now? [Don't cheat.]
The last Cardinal Bishop died on May 13, 2008. Yes, over 3 years ago. It was Cardinal Bernardin Gatin. He was Dean of the College from 1993 to 2002, at which point he (then 80) relinquished that post so that he could go back to Benin. [The Dean and the Vice-Dean are expected to reside in Rome]. As far as I can see he was the only non-white to have been Dean. He was succeeded as Dean, by a secret ballot among just the suburbicarian see Cardinal Bishops, by Cardinal Ratzinger. Sodano was elected, again by just his immediate peers, when Ratzinger became pope. José Saraiva Martins got Gantin’s see.
24 days prior to Gantin, Colombian Alfonso López Trujillo, a Cardinal Bishop since 2001 passed away. His see was awarded to #2 papabile, the very canny Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
Two of the current crop of 6 Cardinal Bishops are over 80, with French Roger Etchegaray poised to turn 90 next year. The controversial Sodano is 83. Saraiva Martins will turn 80 in 92 days — and thus become ineligible to participate in a conclave. Arinze, never a papabile in my estimation, will turn 80 in November 2012. If Etchegaray, is still alive at that point, and I suspect he will be, we will then be down to two Cardinal Bishops who could participate in a conclave — though, as I have repeatedly pointed out, you don’t need a cardinal bishop in a conclave and the Camerlengo does not have to be a Cardinal Bishop.
Yes, of course, a Cardinal Bishop can resign — as can the pope. But, the last cardinal to resign was in 1927. Note, that Gantin resigned his Deanship, not his cardinalate. So given that cardinals are living longer and longer there will be a logjam for suburbicarian sees going forward — now that the Vatican appears to have stopped, at least for the time being, bumping off folks that get in the way.