April 04, 2005

Cardinal “In Pectore” –Who Is It?

As has been mentioned a number of times in recent days, Pope John Paul II did not announce one of his appointments as cardinal during the 2003 consistory. The name still has not been made public. That leads to an obvious question – who is this cardinal “in the breast”? There is much speculation.

The first possibility is, of course, that the pope told no one who his selection was, and did not leave any written indication of the choice. In that case, the man in question can never be known. But what if the identity was revealed, one way or another? Who might it be?

Observers divide into two camps on the identity of our “undercover cardinal.” On the one hand, it might be a prelate from an oppressed church who would face danger if named publicly. On the other, it could be someone quite close to John Paul, perhaps a priest or prelate in the Vatican whose elevation would have created difficulties if publicly known.

Those who hold the latter view have a candidate in mind. Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope’s private secretary for many years. He was ordained a priest by then-Bishop Karol Wojtyla in 1963, and served as his secretary in Krakow and the Vatican. Naming him a cardinal publicly would have been difficult, as it would have likely meant the loss of his services. It would not have been out of character for John Paul to have withheld the public acknowledgement of that appointment until after his death, leaving a final gift to the one man to whom he was closest. If this is the case, we will soon know, because Dziwisz is young enough to participate in the conclave, and near enough at hand to make the announcement of his appointment a simple task.

And there is an element of danger in announcing the appointment of a bishop from an oppressed church. Such a cardinal would almost certainly come from the People’s Republic of China or, perhaps Vietnam. In those nations, making the appointment public would subject the cardinal to arrest, torture, or even martyrdom. Such appointments were not unprecedented under the late pope.

John Paul has named three other "in pectore" cardinals whose names were later revealed, including Marian Jaworski, archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine, for Catholics who follow the Latin rite, and Janis Pujats of Riga, Latvia.

Both Ukraine and Latvia formerly belonged to the officially atheist Soviet Union.

The third was Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, an elderly Chinese bishop who spent 30 years in Chinese prisons for defying attempts by China's communist government to control Roman Catholics through the state-run church.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, speculation has centered on Bishop Julius Jia of China, but there are others who might also have been chosen by John Paul II. Would it be possible to announce the name of the secret cardinal and get him safely to Rome in time to participate? Would he be allowed to return home in the event he did participate? Those questions would need to be answered, and the consequences considered, before making the announcement.

What impact would this cardinal, the name made public only after the late pope’s death, have at the conclave? Dziwisz certainly knew the mind and heart of the pope better than anyone. What weight would his voice be given? Would he be a desirable candidate himself, or would the election of a second Polish pope in as many conclaves be tone too many? Would a stranger from a strange land, one who has lived under the bootheel of totalitarian oppression (much like a certain Polish cardinal in 1978) have great influence – or even bee seen as the key to liberating his homeland if elected, just as John Paul II’s words and deeds were instrumental in liberating Poland and the rest of the Eastern Bloc?

So much could hinge on the identity of the cardinal “in pectore,” if only we learn his identity.

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