by Anura Guruge
Yesterday, at the behest of Louis Epstein, I posted (or more to the point, re-posted) a list of all of the non-bishop cardinals (NBCS) since 1917 — that being when the 1917 Code of Canon Law mandated that all cardinals, at a minimum, be ordained priests. This new interest in NBCs was stoked by my comment yesterday about what would happen if a non-bishop was elected pope and there were no Cardinal Bishops in conclave to consecrate him a bishop. If this were to ever happen it would not be an issue at all. Any cardinal, ideally the most senior per the precedence of the College, could consecrate the new NBC pope. A point that was being debated was whether a NBC could be present in a conclave. The answer to that, has to be an emphatic ‘YES’ since there are no laws or rules that say that a non-bishop has to be over the age of 80 to be created; i.e., only created as non-electors. With Robert Tuuci, as I explained yesterday, we already have an exception.
Well all this talk of NBCs brought to mind Teodolfo Mertel the last cardinal never to have been ordained, i.e, the last non-priest cardinal. But, for two months, right after his creation, he was also the last lay cardinal.
Mertel, an Italian, was born in February 1806. He studied with the Capuchins and at a seminary before getting a dual doctorate in law, canon and civil. In 1931, aged 25, he went to work for the curia as a lawyer. He would go onto hold posts in the Apostolic Signature (highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church) and other high profile offices before becoming a lay member of the Apostolic Chamber, the pope’s treasury headed by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church. He also held a number of ministerial posts related to the Papal States.
He was created, a cardinal deacon, by Pius IX, at his 10th cardinal creating consistory, on March 15, 1858. Mertel, as a layman, was the last named — and the 51st to be created by Pius IX. He was assigned the deaconry of S. Eustachio. Mertel had just turned 52. We do not know whether he was married or had any children. On May 16, 1858, 2 months after the consistory, the pope ordained him a a deacon at Castel Gandolfo. He was a lay cardinal, and the last of that ilk, during those two months.
He, as far as I can see, was a member of various Tribunals, Congregations and Offices. In 1884 he became the Vice Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church heading up, after the pope who was the Chancellor, the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs, which was responsible for financing the papal armies. This Chancery, with the need for papal armies obviated c. 1870, was merged in 1908 with Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs.
He participated in the February 18-20, 1878 conclave that elected Leo XIII, as the second most senior cardinal deacon. The protodeacon Prospero Caterini fell ill just after the conclave. So Mertel, as the next senior, was the cardinal deacon that crowned the new pope with a tiara. In 1881 he opted for a transfer to another deaconry, S. Maria in Via Lata. Such transfers were permissible and common in that era. In 1884, after he became Vice Chancellor he opted for the title, S. Lorenzo in Damaso, pro illa vice, which is usally goes with that post. He was to die in July 1899, age 93.
[Thanks Louis for putting me right on the Vice-Chancellor role.]