Last November, Benedict surprised us (he’s good at that, isn’t he?) by calling a consistory to give six men the red hat. The move was surprising on several fronts. He had already held a consistory earlier in the year, and a Pope hadn’t had two consistories in the same calendar year since the 1920s. (Of course, now the 1920s hardly seem like a long time ago.) It was also surprising to some that he didn’t include any Italians or any Curia members. Benedict later explained that he wanted to give the red hat to these men — from Asia, the Middle East, Africa – to remind us of the universality of the Church. Lastly, it was surprising due to its size– a relatively small consistory — six men — when he could have waited until March 2013 and filled more spots (as Cardinals turned 80 in the meantime).
More than one person pointed to the fact that the last time such a small consistory was held was in the pontificate of Paul VI, when his health was failing and his pontificate was drawing to a close.
But last November, we didn’t have reason to think Benedict’s pontificate was drawing to a close.
Phil Lawler had an excellent piece on the announcement and at the time said, “…there is no known reason, aside from his advancing age (he is now 85), to believe that Pope Benedict is nearing the end of his reign. So the Pope’s reasons for his sudden announcement and quick consistory remain mysterious.”
Hindsight being 20/20, things are becoming a little clearer now, no?
One of the men to receive the hat was the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle.
Like Cardinal Turkson, Tagle was educated in the States. After graduating from Catholic U, he went back to the Philippines to work in a parish and a seminary, later becoming rector of the seminary. After studying in Rome, he returned to the Philippines and was made episcopal vicar of religious, then rector of the Cathedral. From 1997-2002, he served on the International Theological Commission under Ratzinger. There’s an account that Ratzinger highly praised Tagle’s work after a chapter he wrote passed with no objections from the committee members– Ratzinger said it was the first time such a thing had ever happened. It’s likely this close working relationship had a some part in the Holy Father appointing Tagle Archbishop of Manila in 2011, after he served as Bishop of the slightly smaller diocese of Imus for ten years.
One thing that stands out about Tagle is that he’s a teacher who speaks his mind. He’s known to deliver great catechesis, to challenge the Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines, and to speak out for the needs of the poor.
Tagle was appointed by the Pope to the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, and it was during this synod that the news broke that Tagle would receive the red hat. It seems that a synod on the New Evangelization was a proper place to announce the honor when it’s given to a bishop who is pretty active on YouTube.
Tagle has risen through the ranks fairly rapidly, becoming bishop at 44 and Cardinal at 55. He is moved easily to tears at the honors given him — perhaps a good indication of this young man’s humility in the face of mystery.
At his installation as Archbishop, he commented, “If I am not careful, this position might even blind me to the Lord and to my people. I pray that my episcopal ministry and all ministries in the church may be rooted in humble and loving discipleship. I tell myself as though it were the Lord telling me, ‘Chito, do not think you have become great because of your new position. Be great rather in being a beloved and loving disciple of the Lord.'”
Sounds pretty good to me.
His name is obviously being tossed around because he’s from Asia, and like Turkson, the idea of a Pope coming from a part of the world where the Faith is exploding is exciting. But it’s not just his hometown that makes him papabile. He’s also articulate, intelligent, humble, and willing to engage the culture while remaining rooted in Catholic tradition. And that’s exciting.
Why he won’t: He’s young. While I think we need some energy in the Church’s leadership, I think 55 is a big young. At this rate, he’ll be around when we need to elect the 268th Pope. Maybe the 269th, too.
He also served on the editorial board of the History of Vatican II project, which is connected to the leaders of the Bologna School. At risk of over-simplification, the Bologna School says that Vatican II was a rupture with the past, a direct contradiction of Pope Benedict’s view of the necessity of reading Vatican II with a hermeneutic of continuity. It is doubtful that this is Tagle’s view- he’s insisted that it’s not- and Benedict seems to have shown his thoughts on the whole “Tagle: Bolonga School?!” controversy by giving him the red hat.
No one can deny that Tagle is a rising star. But is he ready to lead the universal Church?