QUAERITUR: If, after announcing new cardinals, the Pope dies before the consistory.

I have received several queries about what would happen if, before the upcoming consistory and the “creation” of the new cardinals, the Holy Father were to – quod Deus avertat – die.

Would the men whose names were already announced be able to participate in the subsequent conclave even though there wasn’t a consistory?

Ralph McInernyThere was a spiffing novel about this scenario, by the way, by Ralph McInerny called The Red Hat [? click to order] which concerned an American liberal schism after an ambitious fellow named cardinal was not permitted to participate in a conclave.  Lot’s of ecclesiastical hijinx and scandal from the creator of the Fr. Dowling detective series. [UPDATE 30 Jan 16:20 GMT – 177 people clicked the link and 6 have ordered the book from Amazon.  FYI.  Thanks!]

In short, though there is some dispute, the answer is “no”.  They are not officially cardinals until the consistory.  If they are not cardinals, they cannot be electors and cannot enter the conclave.

The present legislation governing conclaves, in John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis, says:

36. A Cardinal of Holy Roman Church who has been created and published before the College of Cardinals thereby has the right to elect the Pope, in accordance with the norm of No. 33 of the present Constitution, even if he has not yet received the red hat or the ring, or sworn the oath. On the other hand, Cardinals who have been canonically deposed or who with the consent of the Roman Pontiff have renounced the cardinal- ate do not have this right. Moreover, during the period of vacancy the College of Cardinals cannot readmit or rehabilitate them.

So, what does “created and published before the College” mean? In the Code of Canon Law we read:

Can. 351 §2. Cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff, which in fact is published in the presence of the College of Cardinals. From the moment of publication, they are bound by the obligations and they enjoy these rights defined in the law.

There is a difference between the Pope’s announcement of the names of the men to be created Cardinals and the announcement and publication of their names in the presence of the College of Cardinals, that is, during a consistory.

The Pope must formally announce a man to be a cardinal in the context of a consistory, that is, a meeting of the College with the Pope.

That means that, provided the consistory takes place, the man is a cardinal even if he didn’t go to Rome to participate in the ceremonies, get the ring and red biretta, etc.  But, the consistory has to take place.

So, say fictional Pope Sixtus VI (there will never be one, so it is safe to use his name) announces that he has the intention of making Fr. John Zuhlsdorf a cardinal (which will never happen, so it’s safe to use me as an example… or warning, as the case may be).  After the universal uproar died down, but before the consistory, poor wise intelligent holy and perspicacious Pope Sixtus suddenly dies, no doubt from a poisoned fish which had been wrapped in a certain poisonous fishwrap.   Fr. Zuhlsdorf remains the simple priest he was ever content to be. End of story, except that his name appears in footnotes a little more often in years to come. (This was the case with the late Hans Urs von Balthasar, by the way.)

If, however, Pope Sixtus VI survived the attempt on his life, but before the consistory, the fishwrap assassins were successful in the case of Fr. Zuhlsdorf, then Fr. Zuhlsdorf would have “Father” and not “Cardinal” on his tombstone.

But were both Pope and Father to survive, for we cannot assume the competence of those fishwrappers, and Pope Sixtus held the consistory but without Fr. Z (still recovering from the liberals’ attempt on his life), even though Fr. Z didn’t make it to Rome, he would nevertheless be Ioannes S.R.E. Cardinalis Zuhlsdorf with all the duties, rights and privileges, etc.  Also, since at the time he was named Cardinal Fr. Z was a simple priest, he would have to receive episcopal consecration (unless he were dispensed by wise Pope Sixtus VI at Fr. Z’s request – Jesuits, I think, always make this request – and which Fr. Z will not make).  And because we are having fun with this, Holy Pope Sixtus, would want to consecrate Fr. Z using the pre-Conciliar Pontificale Romanum in St. Peter’s Basilica in an event to be televised globally.  Card. Z would also receive as his cardinalatial title in Rome La Cappella Della Madonna Dell ‘Archetto (unless a smaller church could be found… I think that’s the smallest official church in Rome, but memory is foggy on that piece of trivia). Card. Z would probably continue to write a blog, but that’s another kettle of fish.

In 2007, by the way, Pope Benedict changed a few details of matters cardinalatial and conclavistic with his Motu Proprio Constitutione apostolica.  Also, for this consistory of 2012, the consigning of the red biretta and the ring and the written bull, will comes at the same time.  Before, the ring was consigned during private consistory with a Mass sometimes called the “Ring Mass” and the red hat in another ceremony, a public consistory.  Since the the distinction of private and public consistories is disappearing, so are some of the distinctions of ceremonies.

The point is: no ticky, no laundry…no consistory, no cardinalate.

In the meantime, at my feeder Cardinal Ray opines:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. albinus1 says:

    Why won’t there ever be a Pope Sixtus VI? Are there some negative connotations with Sixtus as a papal name? Or just because “Sixtus VI” sounds silly, esp. in Latin (Sixtus Sextus)? Or some other reason? Of course papal names, like anything else, fall in and out of fashion. [Nah. It’s the sound of the name.]

    I have read that for several centures no one thought there would be another Pope John, because it would require deciding for certain whether John XXIII in the 15th century was considered an antipope or not. When Roncalli decided to call himself John XXIII, it confirmed that the previous John XXIII was considered an antipope.

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    It seems to me that the hypothetical news story might have a picture like this?

    The Cardinal

    – I got it as a Christmas present last year.


  3. NoTambourines says:

    Fr. Z, if that were made into a movie, I’d totally go see it, with Sour Patch Kids and blue slushie in hand!

    [Not a red slushie?]

  4. Phil_NL says:

    Cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff, which in fact is published in the presence of the College of Cardinals. From the moment of publication, they are bound by the obligations and they enjoy these rights defined in the law.

    One can havea lot of fun / mischief with this. Assuming that HH Pope Sixtus VI feels his end is near – posioned fish doesn’t work immediately – couldn’t he summon the presence of the College of Cardinals to his bedside – straight away?

    Your Eminences, the Holy Father has called a consistory. It will take place in 30 seconds.”

    That this means that preciously few cardinals would be able to attend in time wouldn’t matter, right? As far as I know, there isn’t a quorum, and at any rate, the Pope could dispense with that. All that would be needed would be a piece of paper – a paper handkerchief would do (the normal example in such academic examples would be a beer mat, but I suspect that Pope Sixtus VI wouldn’t have those handy on his deathbed). On that paper needs to be written “Exc. et Rev. Ioannis Card. Zuhlsdorf” [Actually, depending on the placement in the sentence, it would run something closer to “Em.mum ac Rev.mum Dominum, Dominum Ioannem S.R.E. Card. Zuhlsdorf”] and the pope’s signature. After that, good old Sextus VI can breathe his last, whispering ‘it is done’, and in the next conclave, the first American Pope, formerly Cardinal Zuhlsdorf, can be elected. [Okay… now you are pushing it toooo faaaar by far.]

    Of course, since there was no time for episcopal consecration prior to the election, the sound of the Imperial March will echo through St Peter’s, [Right! Thanks for remembering.] true to the promise the new pope made on his blog many years before…

    (not to mention that certain curial officials then flee into a garbage compression system, a course of action which the new Pope will encourage. [But… wait… in the movie didn’t they actually get out?] Also, there will be many nuniti to countries like Somalia, Saoudi Arabia and Iran….)

  5. tzard says:

    Wait, Fr. Z is a Jesuit in this scenario? My mind is officially blown. [Quod Deus avertat! I corrected my text, above, so as to avoid that frightening misunderstanding. brrrr]

  6. don Jeffry says:

    Hans Urs von Balthasar has Kardinal prominently written on his tombstone. I have a picture somewhere on a disc but I can’t find it right now. don Jeffry

  7. Phil_NL says:

    Father, you expect a dying pope to write such a long form of your by-then-even-more-exalted-title? ;)

    For the rest I’m sure that in this remake, they won’t get out of the compressor. After all, you did read the ”evil overlord list”.

  8. Phil_NL: After all, you did read the ”evil overlord list”.

    Of course! I have a link to it on the sidebar. Essential reading.

    On review, though they are all helpful, I had a good chortle over #42 especially.

  9. Fiat Mihi says:

    Would the fishwrappers use a large puppet to deliver the fish? [Wouldn’t that be a… what’s the term… dead give away?]

  10. trespinos says:

    For some reason, I thought Card. Z would receive the title to Santa Maria in Via Lata, but perhaps that’s not available. ;-) Notanda: “Xystus” is the proper Latin for the papal name. “Cardinalitial”–modeled on the quality of “cardinalitas”, I suppose–has been used in the Vatican’s English documents in preference to “cardinalatial”. I mention that here, not to earn pedantry points, to be sure, but because the adjective will be receiving heavy use in the run-up to next month’s consistory.

  11. trespinos says:

    Shucks, I forgot the punch line.

    The hypothetical being discussed then is a Pope X creating a Cardinal Z, and the only possible question is Y?

    Buona sera.

  12. Sixupman says:

    At Diocesan level relative to ambition -v- holiness, I recommend the novel by Canon Sheehan – “Luke Delmege”.

  13. Bryan Boyle says:

    I would pay good money to see J. Cardinal Zhulsdorf take possession of his church to the sounds, during the entrance procession, of the Imperial March. Words, no doubt written by his favorite composer, M. Haugen, and sung by a certain singer named Repp.

    Am I skating close to the edge here?

    Though, God willing, we will see in our lifetimes more men like the good father coming to the fore.

  14. kat says:

    ok if we want to talk about Cardinals and conclaves and books and movies, I totally recommend the following book: “The Secret Cardinal” by Tom Grace.

    “Inspired by true events, this novel is Tom Grace’s most provocative yet. In The Secret Cardinal, ex-Navy Seal Nolan Kilkenny returns in an adventure that races from the grandeur of the Vatican across the vastness of Asia, ultimately involving China, the Mafia, and the conclave of cardinals who will elect the next pope.”

    It was REALLY good reading! And a surprise ending!

  15. ray from mn says:

    Ray for Pope? Gulp!!

  16. Nora says:

    I love it when Father has fun. That applies to all the Fathers I know and cherish, but there is an existential elegance to Father Z’s fun.

  17. Hughie says:

    When Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien was named cardinal in 2003, I wrote an article for the Scottish Catholic Observer in which I said that as of the public announcement he was a de facto cardinal. My assertion was based on a straightforward reading of the official English Language translation made available on the Vatican’s website. Since the names had been announced to every man and his dog, thy had been announced to the Sacred College.

    Sadly, that translation (used above by Fr Z) official though it be, is inaccurate. That he would not be a member of the Sacred College until later was confirmed by Cardinal Re. Far from being annoyed, the late editor was delighted. Never had he had such authoritative clarification of a point raised in the pages his paper!

    The publication “before” the College of Cardinals must be formally when they are met in consistory. Therefore, I presume that when they meet on the Friday, the eve of the public consistory, Pope Benedict will in accordance with tradition formally reveal to the Sacred College of Cardinals the names of those he is minded to invite to join their ranks and then ask them using the traditional words whether they feel, as he does, that the nominees are “esteemed by Us worthy of the majesty of the Roman purple?”

    When the Holy Father formally receives that assent (the unanimous “placet” of the Sacred College the nominees are then both formally and effectively cardinals AND even if the Pope should die before they THEN receive the ring etc they must be admitted to the subsequent conclave.

    Salvador Miranda in his excellent site, The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church (see: http://www2.fiu.edu/~mirandas/essay.htm) notes that Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was to be created a cardinal in the consistory of June 28, 198, died on June 26, two days before its celebration. His creation as a cardinal had been announced on May 29, 1988. That good man was buried a humble priest without the cardinalatial dignity.

  18. Mitchell NY says:

    Thank you the answer to a good question that few of us would know the answer or think to ask. I love that about the Catholic Church, that it is so clear on almost every point. Alas until circa late 60’s. The metaphor with Pope Sixtus VI made me smile in a time of deep pain. Say a prayer for me Father. God Bless.

  19. Hughie says:

    Apologies for the typing errors, it is the wee sma’ oors this side of the Atlantic. That date for the consistory is, of course, June 28, 1988.

  20. Centristian says:

    “Why won’t there ever be a Pope Sixtus VI?”

    Watch, now: some cardinal who follows this blog will be elected in the next conclave and take the name to subtly signal that he’s a Z-fan.

    I just hope he isn’t elected on the sixth ballot, or on the 6th of the month, or in June.

  21. Hughie says:

    I am afraid to say, Jeffry, invaluable though I find David’s Hierarchy the Catholic Church website, in this instance he has got it wrong. Fr Balthasar did not in fact become a cardinal as Blessed Pope John Paul had intended because his name had not been put before the Sacred College in consistory, even although the papal intention had been made known to he world.

  22. don Jeffry says:

    I think we are all in agreement. It states: “Consistory – 1988: Died before being Created Cardinal”. And although it say “Kardinal” on his tombstone, that does not make him one. Best, d J

  23. mike cliffson says:

    Was it you who had a post some time back explaining a) in pectore? b) what happens /happened in fact last time round re in pectore cardinals when a Pope dies? If you, could you repost? If not, backburner for whenever.
    Thanks! Motive : pure’satiable curiosity, like the elephant’s chile.

  24. Pingback: SATURDAY MID-DAY EXTRA | ThePulp.it

  25. irishgirl says:

    Does this same ‘rule’ apply when a new Saint is announced, but before the canonization ceremony?
    I ask this because there were Masses this week for one of the new Saints-to-be on her feast day.
    She’s being referred to now as ‘Saint’ instead of her present title of ‘Blessed’.
    It’s making me rather annoyed-I’m ready to yell out, ‘She is NOT yet a Saint-she’s still a Blessed! She won’t have the title ‘Saint’ until she is canonized!’
    Anyway, back to the topic….I nearly laughed out loud when I saw AMM’s ‘cardinal’ figurine! Good thing I didn’t swallow the piece of chocolate I had in my mouth the ‘wrong way’ and choke!
    Very interesting scenario with a fictional Pope (Sixtus VI) and a ‘fictional’ Cardinal (Father Z)!

  26. robtbrown says:

    The principle also works in the other direction\, which means Albert Pujols cannot vote in the next conclave.

  27. philologus says:


    Not even as an angel?

  28. Phil_NL says:

    @irishgirl: I think you’re missing one aspect: cardinals are created by a human act. The pope can create one, or don’t create when he pleases (see my earlier post, despite the fanciful ending, there’s no reason why a pope couldn’t call for an immediate consistory; it would just run roughshot over the traditional procedure, but he could do it). The pope determines.

    Creating a Saint is, however, up to our dear Lord. The canonization procedure doesn’t make saints, it just proclaims that someone is a saint. When this sainthood started isn’t 100% clear to me, but the options are at the moment of death of the saint – and thereby his birth into Heaven – or before that. At the moment of canonization, the Saint is already beholding the Glory of our Lord, so that one is off the table.

    With a ‘premature’ celebration of a person who’s canonization is already announced one would perhaps jump the gun in the sense that God could always still interfere in miraculous ways to derail the canonization in case a person isn’t a saint afterall, but then the real problem wouldnt be a premature celebration, but a thusfar faulty process in Rome.

    @Mike Cliffson: As far as I know, a cardinal ‘in pectore’ will rank from the moment he was named as such, should his name later be revealed. But if that isn’t the case, then the cardinal-designate never was a Cardinal, and never will be, unless a future pope names him as such, publicly. In other words: the practical effects of being a Cardinal only apply to those publicly named, for which a living Pope is required.

  29. Centristian says:

    @mike cliffson:

    “Was it you who had a post some time back explaining a) in pectore? b) what happens /happened in fact last time round re in pectore cardinals when a Pope dies?”

    When a pope creates a cardinal in pectore but dies without publishing it, the man created actually ceases to be a cardinal upon that pope’s death. It is believed that this happened, in fact, with Josef Slipyj. It is imagined (but not known for certain) that he was created in pectore by John XXIII, who died before publishing his creation. He was subsequently created (or re-created as the case may be) cardinal by Pope Paul VI.

    The record for in pectore creations, incidentally, goes to Gregory XVI, who created 29 cardinals in pectore. Interestingly, Gregory XVI was, himself, created a cardinal in pectore (by Leo XII).

    “Does this same ‘rule’ apply when a new Saint is announced, but before the canonization ceremony?”

    Yes. Unlike British knights, saints are not allowed to use their titles from the moment their names are published on the honours list. While knights don’t have to wait for the accolade from the Queen before they start calling themselves “Sir”, saints do have to wait for the canonization by the Pope before they call themselves “Saint”. So if, for example, you encounter Blessed Marianne Cope and she introduces herself as “Saint Marianne Cope”, she does so in error and you may feel free to correct her.

  30. RichR says:

    Very funny post, your EmminenZ (/HolineZ).

  31. AnAmericanMother says:

    The Christmas ornament was made by a lady named Patience Brewster. Sounds a very Old New England sort of name – and she is actually a Mayflower Descendant.
    Her stuff varies from the merely whimsical to the totally bizarre.
    I love it.
    Her Nativity is a bit on the precious side but quite respectful. And also prohibitively expensive.

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