Pope Francis will hold a Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on 14-15 February 2015. He has also convened a meeting of the entire College of Cardinals for the two days prior to that event, but has not yet disclosed the topic(s) they will discuss.
Father Federico Lombardi S.J., the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, announced this on December 11. He did so at the end of a briefing for journalists on what had taken place during the seventh meeting of the Council of nine Cardinal Advisors with the pontiff which began on December 9 and ends this evening.
The College of Cardinals has 208 members as of today, but only 112 of those are “electors”, that is cardinals who are under the age of 80 and have a right to vote in a conclave. Since the College of Cardinal Electors should have a maximum of 120 members (according to the norms established by Paul VI and confirmed by all his successors), this means that there are now 8 vacancies in that electoral body. But between now and the time Francis holds the consistory, two more cardinals will have reached the age of 80 and so cease to be electors: Darmaatmadja (Indonesia) and Lajolo (Italy). Therefore, by February 14 there will be 10 vacancies in the College of Cardinal Electors.
The Pope could, of course, take account of the fact that there will be additional vacancies by April 19 by which date when two more cardinals will have celebrated their 80th birthday - Najuib (Egypt) and Rigali (USA), if he does, then he can assign a total of 12 red hats to on February 14.
As Pope, of course, it is within his power to change both the total number of cardinal electors or to derogate to some degree from the existing rule that sets that number at 120. John Paul II derogated from the 120 number on a number of occasions, and Francis did so at his first consistory. It would come as no surprise, therefore, if he were to do likewise in February and create 12 new cardinal electors.
Speculation has already started in Rome as to whom the Argentine pope will give the new red hats. Much of that however will depend on the criteria that he chooses to follow. It will be recalled that when he held his first consistory, February 2014, Francis broke with tradition in a number of directions to change the European (and especially Italian) as well as United States imbalance in the College of Cardinal Electors, and to recognize the Churches on the peripheries of the world where there are situations of poverty or conflict. Thus, he gave two red hats each to Asia, Africa, and the same to Europe. He only gave one red hat to North America (Canada), but assigned a few more to Latin America where just under half of the world’s Catholics live. He also limited the number of red hats given to members of the Roman Curia and to Italians not members of the Roman Curia. It remains to be seen how closely he will follow these guidelines this time round.
In addition to choosing cardinal electors, Francis in his first consistory followed the tradition started by his predecessors of assigning red hats to some well-deserving prelates over the age of 80. It is possible that he will do the same this time round. He is expected to announce the names of the new cardinals by mid-January.
At the press briefing in which he broke the news of the new consistory, Fr. Lombardi also announced that the Pope has called a meeting of the entire College of Cardinals for February 12-13, the two days preceding the consistory. He also disclosed that the Council of 9 Cardinal Advisors will meet with the Pope in the Vatican on February 9-11, and will present the results of their deliberations on the reform of the Roman Curia to the College of Cardinals during their two day meeting.