This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  April 7, 2006

Cardinals air concerns at consistory meeting


Benedict XVI’s first consistory created 15 new cardinals, two of them Americans. By the middle of that week, TV crews from Boston, San Francisco and Hong Kong, to say nothing of Slovenia and Venezuela, were prowling St. Peter’s Square.

The bestowal of the biretta, marking the formal induction of the 15 new members into the College of Cardinals, took place Friday, March 24, while a thanksgiving Mass in which the pope hands out rings to the new cardinals was the next day.

While these ceremonies are largely pro-forma, the week did have one bit of journalistic interest. Benedict XVI asked the entire College of Cardinals to spend Thursday with him in a working meeting, in effect an opportunity for the cardinals to air what’s on their minds.

The cardinals met in the Synod Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then came back from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. Discussion was largely devoted to three themes: Islam, the followers of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and retired bishops. The evening also provided time for an open discussion, when cardinals could raise topics of their choice.

Cardinals were asked to fill out a card indicating their desire to speak, and then gave short “interventions” when their turn came. There was little back-and-forth exchange, though in some cases cardinals would request the floor in order to respond to something said earlier.

Benedict listened attentively, and at the end of the day offered a brief summary of the discussion. The pope is known for his capacity to absorb information and synthesize it rapidly, and sources told NCR he was in good form Thursday.

“It was a tour de force,” one cardinal said. “He never relied on translation, so he had been listening all day in five languages, and then offered a brilliant précis of all the important points.”

Sources told NCR that on the subject of Islam, several cardinals touched on the need for greater emphasis on reciprocity -- the idea that if Muslim immigrants to the West claim the benefit of religious freedom, the same should be true for Christian minorities in majority Islamic states.

“I think most of us felt that Islam represents a challenge to the church, and we need to reflect on how to respond,” one cardinal told NCR.

In that regard, sources told NCR that the emerging line of Benedict XVI’s papacy with regard to Islam, featuring more explicit challenges to Islamic leaders on terrorism and religious freedom, enjoys strong support in the College of Cardinals.

With regard to the Lefebvrite movement, sources said that a variety of opinions were expressed. Some cardinals were in favor of rapid movement toward reconciliation, including wider use of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, while others were concerned with the terms upon which reconciliation might occur. These cardinals stressed the importance that traditionalists accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

“There wasn’t any strong consensus,” one cardinal said. “We’ll continue to study and review the situation, but I’m quite sure the pope is not going to issue a decree tomorrow.”

As for retired bishops, various proposals were floated for ensuring that their material needs are met, and that they continue to have opportunities to make contributions to the church. One cardinal suggested the idea of raising the retirement age above 75.

Despite expectations to the contrary, one cardinal told NCR that there was basically no discussion of reform of the Roman curia.

A number of cardinals left the Synod Hall expressing the hope that such encounters can be held on a regular basis. Many cardinals complained during last April’s conclave that they do not have adequate time to get to know one another, or to reflect together on issues. Some cardinals suggested holding similar “study days” once a year.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, April 7, 2006

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: