Pope raises status of two Vatican cardinals

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Pope Francis has raised two prelates—Cardinals Beniamino Stella and Luis Tagle—to the status of cardinal-bishops. Cardinal Stella is the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. Cardinal Tagle is the newly appointed prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization. Their elevation to the rank of cardinal-bishop confirms their standing among the Vatican’s leading figures.

Along with the May 1 announcement of the two cardinals’ new rank, the Vatican also revealed that the Pope has named Archbishop Ilson de Jesus Montanari, the secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, to be Vice Camerlengo. In that role he will assist the Camerlengo, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, whose task is to supervise the care of the Vatican’s property in the period after the death or resignation of the Roman Pontiff and the election of his successor.

A cardinal-bishop holds the highest rank within the College of Cardinals. (There are two other ranks: cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons.) Although the distinction is mostly ceremonial, the cardinal-bishops elect the dean of the College of Cardinals, who presides over a conclave when a new Pontiff is elected.

Traditionally there have been only six cardinal-bishops, with each one assigned to a titular church representing one of the ancient suburbicarian dioceses outside Rome. But in 2018, Pope Francis broke with that precedent and named four more cardinal-bishops: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State; Fernando Filoni, then the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization ; Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

The Pope’s decision to appoint new cardinal-bishops was undoubtedly motivated by the advancing age of the prelates currently holding that title. Today, five of the six cardinal-bishops holding the traditional suburbicarian sees are over the age of 85: Cardinals Re (86), Sodano (92), Arinze (87), Bertone (85), and Saraiva Martins (88).

Earlier, in 1965, Pope Paul VI had ruled that a patriarch of an Eastern Catholic Church, when named to the College of Cardinals, would hold the rank of cardinal-bishop. Three Eastern patriarchs now hold that rank: Cardinals Antonios Naguib (Coptic), Bechara Rai (Maronite), and Louis Raphael Sako (Chaldean).

Cardinal Stella, in his new capacity as cardinal-bishop, takes the titular see of Porto-Santa Rufina, one of the traditional suburbicarian sees, which was vacated by the death of Cardinal Roger Etchegary last September. Cardinal Tagle retains his titular see of San Felice da Cantalice a Centocelle, which is not traditionally assigned to a cardinal-bishop.