Although the Vatican’s anticipated announcement naming a new contingent of U.S. archbishops to the College of Cardinals likely is months away, observers are already placing their bets on which men will get the coveted red hat.
The lingo of horse racing, with words like “handicapping” and “top runners,” is being applied to two men: Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.
Other than the papal throne, the cardinalate is the highest position in the Catholic Church; it is this group of 120 men younger than 80 that elects a new pope.
Cardinals receive the red galero — the distinctive wide-brimmed hat for this office — in a consistory, the gathering in Rome specifically for the purpose of naming these new princes of the Catholic Church. Consistories typically are held every three years on a major Catholic holiday, which is why Vatican watchers are scouring the 2010 calendar for prospective dates.
Archbishop Wuerl, 69, was promoted to the Washington see in 2006. His predecessor, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired as archbishop of Washington shortly after his 75th birthday, according to custom.
But Cardinal McCarrick retains voting rights in the college until his 80th birthday, on July 7. That date will open the way for Archbishop Wuerl to receive a red hat, because the Vatican hardly ever allows two active cardinals from the same archdiocese.
“If there are two American cardinals appointed, I think it’d be Wuerl and Burke,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center. “If there is only one, the race is between Burke and Wuerl.
“The odds are in favor of Wuerl, but the biggest problem is the 120-cardinal limit that [Pope] Benedict [XVI] is keeping to. If the consistory is towards the end of the year,” and after July 7, “Wuerl will be a shoo-in. If it’s in June, it’ll be a close race.”
A nod for Archbishops Wuerl and Burke would fit the pope’s pattern of naming to the cardinalate a sitting diocesan archbishop along with one of several American archbishops based in Rome.
At the March 24, 2006, consistory, Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley and Archbishop William Levada, prefect for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were elevated. At the Nov. 24, 2007, consistory, Galveston-Houston Archbishop Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop John P. Foley, pro-grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, were named.
Eight cardinalates have opened since 2007, and 11 more seats are slated to be vacated as a result of retirements in 2010. Retired Detroit Cardinal Joseph Maida, who turns 80 on March 18, and Cardinal McCarrick will be the two Americans leaving the college during 2010.
Washington isn’t the only traditional “cardinal see.” Other cities whose archbishops are customarily named cardinals, with sitting bishops who are not a members of the college, are New York, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
But the fastest-growing Catholic areas in the U.S. are in the South and Southwest, which could encourage Benedict to give a red hat to a bishop from one of these regions. He did so in 2007, when Archbishop DiNardo was named to the college. The DiNardo appointment marked the first time a city had joined the list of cardinal sees since Washington was added in 1967.
“The pope has a good grasp of the demographic shifts within the United States,” said Peter Casarella, Catholic studies professor and director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University. “There has been a signal that the Hispanics count. The pope could choose a Hispanic archbishop [as cardinal].”
Although Archbishop Burke, 61, is the second-ranking American at the Vatican after Cardinal Levada, one observer rates his chances at a red hat as very slim.