Pope Francis will create his first cardinals during a consistory on the feast of the Chair of St Peter next year.
Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman said that the Pope is expected to use the occasion, which falls on February 22, “to have a meeting with the cardinals for consultations” immediately before the ceremony, as retired Pope Benedict XVI did in the run-up to his consistories. No specific dates were given for that meeting.
Father Lombardi told reporters today that also in mid-February, the pope will have members of the governing council of the Synod of Bishops meet in preparation for the extraordinary session on the family in October 2014 and to have his Council of Cardinals, the group of eight advisers, hold what will be their third gathering.
The spokesman said that the Pope wanted to hold a consistory for the creation of new cardinals during the same time period as the cardinals’ other meetings “to facilitate all these appointments.”
The group of eight cardinals will probably meet February 17 and 18, Father Lombardi said, to continue their work on helping the Pope reform the Roman Curia. The group met on October 1 and scheduled its second meeting at the Vatican for early December.
The synod council will meet on Feb 24, Father Lombardi said, to discuss the extraordinary synod the Pope convoked for October next year, to discuss the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation.”
The annual meeting of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See also will be held in February, as it is every year.
When the February 22 consistory date arrives, Pope Francis could create at least 14 new cardinals.
As of today, there were 201 cardinals, 109 of whom were under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. Three more cardinals turn 80 before February 22 and another will turn 80 less than a month later.
The technical limit on the number of voting-age cardinals is 120. That means that if the Pope respects that ceiling, he could name 14 new ones. Blessed John Paul II sometimes set aside the 120 limit, swelling the ranks to as many as 135 under-80 cardinals. The all-time record number of all cardinals was set in 2012 under Pope Benedict when the College of Cardinals reached 213 members.
Pope Francis’ first consistory also will offer clues about how he intends to use the College of Cardinals during his papacy, which, he has already shown, he sees as an instrumental advisory body.