John Paul II elevates Archbishop George Pell to the College of Cardinals

John Paul II elevates Archbishop George Pell to the College of Cardinals

Michael Gilchrist

On Tuesday, 21 October 2003, at 10:30 am in St Peter's Square, John Paul II held a public ordinary consistory for the creation of 30 new cardinals and on the following day presided at a Eucharistic concelebration with the new cardinals on whom he bestowed the cardinal's ring.

He disclosed that he would elevate one more prelate in pectore. That 31st cardinal - whose name is not divulged, for practical or political reasons - will not assume the rights and duties of a cardinal until his name is revealed.

Earlier, on 28 September, in a not-unexpected move, the Pope had named Sydney's Archbishop George Pell as one of the 30.

It had not been a matter of if but when since leadership of the Archdiocese of Sydney traditionally carries a Red Hat. However, at the time of Dr Pell's appointment to Sydney in 2001, there were already two Australian cardinals under 80 and eligible to vote in a papal conclave - the retired Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy, and the former President of the Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Idris Cassidy. Moreover, a consistory had already been held earlier in 2001.

Catholic population

With a population of roughly five million Catholics, Australia would normally be entitled to just one voting cardinal since, worldwide, on average, there are about seven million Catholics for each cardinal under 80.

But with Cardinal Clancy turning 80 in December and Cardinal Cassidy in July 2004, John Paul II no doubt saw the present assembly of cardinals in Rome for his 25th anniversary and Mother Teresa's beatification as an opportune time to hold his ninth consistory and to include Dr Pell's name among the new cardinals.

It had been clear, with the unusual move of Archbishop Pell from Melbourne to Sydney, that the Holy Father wanted him to be leader of the Church in Australia - and following established precedent, Dr Pell would be cardinal Archbishop of Sydney.

Prior to his present elevation, Cardinal Pell's rise in the Australian hierarchy had been quite remarkable. Ordained a priest for the Ballarat Diocese in 1966, he was consecrated an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987 following a ten- year career in Catholic higher education and two years as rector of the Corpus Christi seminary.

In 1996 the Pope appointed Dr Pell as the seventh Archbishop of Melbourne, and then, after less than five years, appointed him the eighth Archbishop of Sydney.

Dr Pell has occupied important Vatican posts including membership of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1990-95 and again from 2002, while from 1990-2000 he was a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is presently Chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Committee for Doctrine and Morals. And having served as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family for many years, he was appointed to the Presidential Committee of the Council in 2002.

In April 2002, the Pope named him President of the international Vox Clara Committee to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship on English translations of liturgical texts.

For several months, Vatican-watchers had expected the Pope to call a consistory, although most had expected the date would be set in February 2004. But with the number of cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave steadily dropping, because of deaths and because many cardinals have reached their 80th birthdays, the Pope clearly wanted to place his final stamp (if that were to be the case) on the membership in the College of Cardinals.

The highlight of the 21 October ceremony came when each prelate knelt before the Pope to receive the small, square, red silk hat which marks his status as Prince of the Church. The red hats are bestowed after the new cardinals swear their fidelity to the Roman Pontiff and his successors and to the Church.

At the last consistory, in February 2001, the Holy Father recalled that a cardinal is called to "a witness that can require the heroism of a total gift of himself to God and to his brothers." The best known duty of a cardinal, of course, is to participate in the election of a new Pope - a function that the College of Cardinals has carried out since that role was established by Pope Nicholas II in 1059. Cardinals also play a consultative role, working with Vatican congregations and occasionally gathering in consistories.

New cardinals

Since 1919, Church law has stipulated that cardinals must be priests. In 1962, Pope John XXIII added the requirement that they must normally be bishops, or be ordained as bishops when they become cardinals. But the Pope can waive that rule, choosing simple priests as cardinals. And these priests can choose to remain simple priests - as for example the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac did when he became a cardinal in 1983.

The College of Cardinals now has 194 members (not including the in pectore), of whom 135 are cardinal electors, exceeding by 15 the maximum number of electors established by Pope Paul VI.

The new cardinals include several members of the Roman Curia and archbishops from various dioceses around the world, e.g., Venice, Lagos, Marseilles, Khartoum, Seville and Quebec. Archbishop Justin Francis Rigali of Philadelphia, USA, was among those elevated. He is regarded as one of the stronger "Pope's men" among the American bishops.

In Australia, there is no disputing that Pope John Paul II has in Cardinal George Pell another "Pope's man". Indeed, the present elevation further underlines the fact that he is Australia's foremost religious leader of any denomination.

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