Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Methodist Cardinal?

With the meeting of the Cardinals to elect a new Pope, I thought this would be a good time to mention a (probably) little known tidbit.  Namely, that, yes, indeed, it seems that there has been a Methodist Cardinal!

If one travels to the World Methodist Museum at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina (at the headquarters of the World Methodist Council), or if one picks up the book, Treasures of the World Methodist Museum, one will discover a ring given to Methodist Bishop, Fred P. Corson, by Pope Paul VI.  At the time that the Pope gave the ring to the Methodist Bishop, he said, "I have made you a Cardinal In Pectore."

A Cardinal In Pectore literally means, a Cardinal in my breast or heart.  It is a way that a Pope makes a "secret Cardinal."  Now, as a secret cardinal, they cannot function as a Cardinal unless and until the Pope makes such appointment public.  Indeed, in some cases, the person in question may not even be aware of their elevation to the position of Cardinal!  However, once it is made public, the Cardinal gains rank among the Cardinals from the time of his In Pectore appointment.  -  If the appointment is never made public, then the Cardinalship ceases at the time of the Pope's death.

It does not appear that Bishop Corson's appointment was ever made public by the Pope.  However, made public or not, whether one is able to function as Cardinal or not, whether one is aware that the Pope has given you that rank or not, a Cardinal In Pectore is, nevertheless, a real, true Cardinal (so long as the Pope is alive)!

Why would a Pope make a secret Cardinal?  In general, Popes may do so when it seems that such a person's life would be endangered by giving them such a position.  An example of this would be Cardinals named in the People's Republic of China or prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. . . . Perhaps another reason for making a "secret Cardinal" might be that the person in quesiton is a PROTESTANT, METHODIST BISHOP!

It really does raise the question, though, can the Pope really name as Cardinal a non-Roman Catholic, whose orders are not recognized by the Church of Rome?

Well, Bishop Corson was elected a Methodist Bishop in 1944.  He also served as the President of the World Methodist Council in 1961.  He was an observer at the Second Vatican Council.  He also held a number of private audiences Popes, and was considered to be close friends with Pope Paul VI.  -  And apparently the Bishop of Rome esteemed him so highly he made him a Cardinal In Pectore!

Pope Paul VI and Bishop Fred P. Corson
(picture found on eBay)
Bishop Corson died in 1985.  Pope Paul VI died in 1978.


Thomas said...

Is there any documentation of this event? I searched online and couldn't find any sources to corroborate. Is this story purely anecdotal or is there some evidence to support it?
It seems that perhaps the term "cardinal" is being used loosely here...perhaps there are some missing details about what Paul VI meant in gifting this ring. In order to be named a "Cardinal" one has to be an ordained member of the Catholic clergy. So legally speaking, the gift of a ring doesn't overcome that barrier.

Todd Stepp said...

I am not at the museum, so I do not have what they have. What I do know is what is stated in the Museum book. There is the picture of the ring (which I cannot find on-line and cannot, now, scan) and the quote.

We do have the close friendship and the several private audiences with the Pope. There is also the issue of In Pectore, which is only revealed, if the Pope reveals it. - Sometimes, even the person named does not know it.

So,yes, I raised the question of the ability of the Pope to do this, but this does seem to be the case, and there does seem to be some evidence. I don't know how much evidence, because, as I said, I am not at the museum. - One would not expect documentation by the Pope if it were In Pectore & intended never to be revealed.

On the other hand, I am quite confident that the Bishop would not, himself, mistake what was being said with the gift of the ring. And, of course, since the Pope did not make it public, the In Pectore status would keep it . . . secret; out of the public eye.

I did think, though, that this would get your attention. :0)

Thomas said...

I certainly do not doubt the deep friendship that these two men had. I do not doubt that Pope Paul VI gifted this ring to Bishop Corson, and that the pope may have even said something to the effect that he considered Bishop Corson a "Cardinal, in pectore." All of that is a great testament to the ecumenical outreach of both men. It is a great story from our shared past and should be treasured as such.

I guess my point would be that all of these things together still do not make Corson a "Cardinal" - nor would it be possible for the Pope to make him a Cardinal by revealing publicly this bestowal of a ring and the words spoken. The pope's words and the gift of a ring do not a Cardinal make. Even the pope cannot violate the rules of the Church, and simply put, Canon Law would not allow for such a thing to happen. A Protestant minister who has not received proper Catholic ordination and has not professed obedience to the Catholic Church and to the Pope cannot be made a Cardinal (in pectore, or otherwise).

My guess is that the Pope spoke these words as a way of honoring his friend and showing how much he valued their relationship. Much like a mayor giving a person the "key to the city" - it shows great respect and admiration, but the key does't really unlock anything or hold any particular power or authority. The pope's words were the same. It is a treasured moment between these two men, but it doesn't bestow Cardinalship on Corson. In other words, it was not a true "in pectore" appointment.

I found the following information about Paul VI's *official* in pectore Cardinals: "Pope Paul VI made three in pectore appointments but eventually published all of them, including one (Iuliu Hossu) who died before his appointment was published; the other two were Štěpán Trochta (made cardinal 1969, published 1973, died 1974) and František Tomášek (made cardinal 1976, published 1977, died 1992). (Pope Paul VI appointed Joseph Trinh-nhu-Khuê in pectore in the 28 April 1976 announcement of an upcoming consistory, but published that appointment when the consistory was held on the following 24 May.)"

Any other gifting of rings or private conversations he may have had do not fulfill Canon Law as in pectore Cardinal appointments. (Unless I am wrong...but I would only trust a certified Canon Lawyer to convince me otherwise.) ;)