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James Martin, S.J.January 06, 2012

Included among the names of cardinal-designates this morning in the Vatican's press release are some expected names, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.  But there is a surprise: Fr. Karl Joseph Becker, SJ.  Fr. Becker is a German Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of dogmatic theology of the Jesuits' Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Normally the pope names (or, technically, "creates") cardinals from the ranks of bishops and archbishops (as with Archbishop Dolan) and these men are often heads of the larger archdioceses.  But occasionally the pope names a priest, to honor the man for his life's work.  (Normally they are over 80, not named a bishop so as to spare them from the sacramental duties of a bishop, and are ineligible to vote in a papal conclave.) Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, the American Jesuit theologian, was a recent example.  (An interview with Cardinal Dulles a few months before the consistory, including his thoughts on becoming a cardinal, is here.) 

A note about accepting ecclesiastical honors in the Society of Jesus.  At the close of their formation, a Jesuit will make his "Final Vows."  (This comes after their "First Vows" made at the end of their novitiate.)  Many Jesuits will profess four vows: poverty, chastity and obedience and a special vow of obedience to the pope "with regard to missions."  Some will profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  We also make five separate "promises": First, we promise never to change anything in the Jesuit Constitutions about poverty--unless to make it "more strict."  Second, we promise never to "strive or ambition" for any dignity in the church, like becoming a bishop.  Third, never to "strive or ambition" for any high office in the Jesuits.  Fourth, if we find out that someone is striving for these things, we are to "communicate his name" to the Society.  (All these were signs of Ignatius wanting to root out among his Jesuits the desire for ecclesial honors, which was rampant in Igantius's time.)  Finally, we make a promise that, if we are somehow made bishop, we will still listen to the superior general. 

But there have been, over the years, several instances of Jesuits being named cardinals, most often for their work in theology.  Indeed one of the great Jesuit saints is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, SJ.  So while we are counseled to avoid "ecclesiastical honors" this particular honor is almost always accepted for two reasons: first, it comes directly from the Holy Father; and second, it is an honor not simply for the man but a mark of a pontiff's gratitude for the Society of Jesus.  

Congratulations to Cardinal-designate Becker, and also to my Ordinary, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, who will certainly be a joyful addition to the College of Cardinals!

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David Pasinski
10 years 7 months ago
I appreciate your opnniion, but do not share your enthusiasm for this consistory. The complexion- in all senses of the word - is disappointing given the state of the Church.
Alan Mitchell
10 years 7 months ago
You failed to mention that Fr. Becker was the one who investigated his fellow Jesuit Jacques Dupuis.  Kind of puts the appointment in a different light.
Jim McCrea
10 years 7 months ago
Old, over-aged white guys:  Si.

Women?  No, Nyet, Nay, Nicht!

Monsignors are understood to be also-rans in the Bishops Reality Show.

What are over-the-hill new Cardinals:  always a bridesmaid, but never a bride?
Crystal Watson
10 years 7 months ago
I don't see how Dolan's personal cheerfulness makes up for his antagonism against LGBT people.   Benedict stacks the deck and chooses cardinals of his ilk to vote for his replacement.
Cody Serra
10 years 7 months ago
I don't see how these appointments may result in a better outlook for the worldwide Church. But I’m sure they are in God’s plan.

The growth of Catholicism is taking place in Africa, Asia, and Southern hemisphere. The composition of the College of Cardinals doesn't seem to reflect that reality. Italians and Curia administrators continue to be a majority.

This was an opportunity to refresh the theological views and consider some realities of the modern world, and to open up to other pastoral perspectives, including those from outside the Vatican. It was lost.

However, I do trust the Holy Spirit, that will be with his Church until the end of times.  I hope to be alive to see the fresh air entering again through the windows as it happened after Vat. II. 

I believe in miracles, and wish the best to the new Cardinals. May God help Archbishop-Cardinal to-be Dolan on his desire to unite Catholics in the American church. His sunny and joyful personality is God's gift, and a tool to achieve his goal by dialogue and listening.
Anne Chapman
10 years 7 months ago
Why surprise at a Jesuit? Because Jesuits are considered to be more progressive, in general? But of course there are always the exceptions, those who seem less like Jesuits (intellectual curiosity, seeking, open)  than like those whose views are much closer to the hearts of the Curia and the pope - the name Fr. John Harden, SJ comes to mind for some reason.
Eileen Gould
10 years 7 months ago
I totally agree with Commentator #1.    Your joyful announcement makes me feel somewhat uneasy, Fr. Martin.   I look to the Jesuits as intellectuals who do not suffer fools gladly.   Eileen Quin Gould

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