by Anura Guruge
It started with this e-mail earlier this week. Thank YOU, Jim.
I had listed Paul VI’s 6 cardinal creating consistories (see bottom of this ‘cornerstone’ post) but had never really studied them. So this gave me a chance. It was rewarding.
Few things immediately stand-out:
1/ As I have previously mentioned, once Paul VI decided to sideline over-80 cardinals, starting as of 1971, he did NOT create any over-80 cardinals.
2/ He trying to tilt the balance of the College he favored younger (and thus hopefully more ‘liberal’) cardinals. The average age of the last consistory, i.e., February 18, 2012, was 70.6 years. He created some very young cardinals. [Yes, I have heard the 'stories' and yes, there could be some basis for that theory.]
3/ His consistories were well spaced out and he didn’t try to pack the College. He was quite restrained in the number of cardinals he created.
Here are the 4 cardinals he created at that June 27, 1977 consistory — his last. You might see some reports that say 5 cardinals were created. That is in ERROR. Yes, he identified Czech Cardinal František Tomášek who had been created in pectore at the previous consistory. So it was just 4.
Though Gantin and Ratzinger would go onto become stars, at this consistory they were but bit-players, making up the numbers. This was the ‘Benelli Consistory‘. Period. This consistory was held 24-days after Benelli was sent to Florence as its Archbishop, after exactly 10 years as the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State [i.e, 2nd-in-command].
Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini) and Benelli were close, and had been for over 20 years; with Benelli becoming Montini’s private secretary in 1947 when Montini was basically running the Secretariat of State. Montini took care of Benelli. He was made a Monsignor in 1950 and a titular Archbishop in 1966. In June 1967 he became Sostituto, with Montini now pope. In that role, though there was nominally a Secretary of State above him, Benelli ran the show. His role was greater than that of Ratzinger as ‘enforcer’ to John Paul II (#265) or Lord Bertone as ‘CEO’ to Benedict XVI (#266). He was Paul’s hatchet man! He ruled the curia by fiat — everybody knowing that he was Paul’s chosen. Those that are amazed and bemused by the power currently wielded by my Lord Bertone, #1 2012 papabile, should read about Benelli. Whereas Lord Bertone is a Cardinal Bishop, Secretary of State and Camerlengo, Benelli was just a titular Archbishop and Sostituto. But, curial heads had to get his ‘OK’ on nearly all decisions they made. He openly ran the curia. Without him Paul VI would have been even more indecisive and ineffective.
But, in an ironic parallel to what happened to Montini himself when he was unexpectedly sent packing to Milan, sans a red hat, Paul in 1977 sent Benelli to Florence. The difference being that Benelli was given his red hat within 24 days. The story is that come 1977 the curia, under the new Secretary of State, the ever delightful Villot, was ready to stage a mutiny. The pope realizing that he was getting old and that a conclave was coming wanted to save Benelli so that he might stand a chance of becoming a papabile. Hence the transfer and the creation. As it transpired Benelli was a papabile, but ended up as the king-maker for John Paul I (#264). He was a contender at the next conclave too, but Villot and others made sure that John Paul II would get the votes — exacting their revenge on Benelli’s treatment of them when he was running the curia. [Page 200, 'The Next Pope 2011' by Anura Guruge.]
So we now get to the question of whether Paul VI topped of the cardinal electors at exactly 120 at this June 1977 consistory. Given that the Pope was approaching 80 there was speculation that he would abdicate at 80 — consistent with him having emasculated the cardinals upon them turning 80.
I can’t find the exact numbers for the College (or electors) immediately following this consistory or just prior to it!
It is kind of amusing and ironic that ‘Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church‘ nor ‘Catholic-Hierarchy‘ lists these key numbers. Even today, when they list consistories, they do so without a running count of the College statistics. Yes, over the last decade you can use the ‘Additions’ section of the former Web site to get these Stats. Though their is a ‘Cronica‘ section, going back to 1974, this ‘chronicle’, in Spanish, at least in 1977, does not chronicle the demographics of the College. Always cracks me up. [Well, there has only been two consistories since I started doing papal history and as you know I go to great lengths to record the demographics at each step.]
But, we can extrapolate. [And you can, if you are motivated enough, do this at any point in papal history as long as you have the accurate stats for a conclave and an accurate list of who got created, when and a list of the cardinals that died.]
We do have very accurate data for the August 25, 1978 conclave. There were 114 eligible cardinal electors, of whom 111 participated.
Using ‘Catholic-Hierarchy’ you can determine that U.S. Lawrence Joseph Shehan turned 80 between the June 1977 consistory and the August conclave.
These 8 cardinals died between June 1977 consistory and the August conclave — but only 4 were cardinal electors (and had been at the time of the 1977 consistory).
Add that 5 to the 114 eligible for the conclave and we get 119. That was probably it. Paul VI kept the electors to 119 following his last consistory. (I could have missed one). What is clear is that he, unlike John Paul II and Benedict XVI, didn’t try to play God by going over 120.