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Posted January 24, 2006

John Allen Jr. Reporting from Rome
for the National Catholic Reporter on

The Next Consistory

Note his mention of one of the best books on Sources of Christian Ethics,
a book well-worth getting.

An American cardinal told me last week that he still expects a consistory, the occasion in which new cardinals are created, this February. The traditional date would be Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, though time is running out to make the announcement.

Given that there are presently 111 cardinals under the age of 80 and hence eligible to vote in the next papal election, this cardinal said he expects a small consistory, perhaps as few as nine electors along with one or two "honorary" cardinals who are already 80.

The cardinal pointed out that John Paul II's first consistory, on June 30, 1979, was also a small one, with just 14 cardinals.

Quite often, there's relatively little drama in a consistory, since most choices are dictated by the job a particular candidate holds. Archbishop William Levada is sure to become a cardinal, for example, because he's now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop André Armand Vingt-Trois will become a cardinal because he's the archbishop of Paris.

The pope has more discretion with so-called "honorary" cardinals, and various groups are quietly expressing preferences for the next round of picks.

Two names in circulation are Dominican Fr. Servais Pinckaers of Belgium, and Fr. Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London who became a Catholic priest in 1994.

Pinckaers' book Sources of Christian Ethics is considered by some as one of the most important works of moral theology in the 20th century. The same ideas were presented in more accessible form for the lay reader in Morality: The Catholic View, the preface for which was written by Alasdair MacIntyre, and translated by Dominican Fr. Michael Sherwin, an up-and-coming theologian who serves with Pinckaers at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

Pinckaers, 81, has also served as a member of the International Theological Commission.

Given the importance of moral theology to Benedict XVI, as the area where "the rubber meets the road" in the struggle against the "dictatorship of relativism," elevating Pinckaers would be not merely an honor for a valued theologian, but a way of spotlighting his approach to the renewal of Catholic ethics.

Leonard, 84, joined the Roman Catholic church in April 1994, following the decision of the Church of England to ordain women priests. In a 2002 interview, Leonard said of that decision that it "represented the establishment of a new communion, according to which one must believe in something that previously the church never required as a matter of faith."

Influential English Catholics are backing the honor for Leonard, including John Gummer, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, like Leonard a convert over the ordination of women, and Paul Murphy, who stood down as the Northern Ireland Secretary after the 2005 election. Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, also a convert, has written to Rome in support of Leonard. An American priest involved in ministry to former Episcopalians told me this week that a number of converts are expressing interest in the possibility.

Yet there are also forces in English Catholicism lukewarm about the prospect, not because they have a low regard for Leonard, but because they fear it would be a divisive move at a time of crisis within the Anglican Communion, potentially seen by some Anglicans as a Catholic form of "triumphalism."

In Durham, an Anglican bishop told me he felt Anglicans would be "decidedly unenthusiastic" about Leonard becoming a cardinal.

If Leonard were to become a cardinal, it would bring at least one interesting twist. He's married and has two sons, so at diplomatic receptions and the like, we could hear an introduction along the lines of, "Cardinal and Mrs. Leonard."

That's certainly not a formula one hears in Rome every day.