Many of you have kindly inquired as to whether I will be traveling to Rome to help with the upcoming Conclave. I am reasonably certain that the Cardinal Electors and the others assisting them will have things well in hand. Of course, if someone asks me to do something to contribute, I will happily accept, if circumstances permit.
But during the upcoming General Congregations and Conclave, the one thing I know I will not be doing is assisting Cardinal Baum. It was as his secretary that I entered the Conclave of 2005, serving him as what is known as a conclavista. This time, His Eminence is not only over 80 and therefore ineligible to participate, but also his health is such that he does not plan to travel. Papa Ratzinger is not the only great man of the Church now leaving her governance to younger, stronger men.
After visiting him on Sunday, a striking fact dawned on me: this will be the first Conclave since 1963 in which Cardinal Baum has not participated. That one, held in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, elected Pope Paul VI. I thought this little statistic would shed light on two things: first, the changing epochs of the life of the Church; and two, the impact a single life, in this case that of Cardinal Baum, can have on the Church.
Cardinal Baum is the only living Cardinal to have voted in three conclaves. [One other man has done so, but he is not a Cardinal. Think… it's... Pope Benedict. Though not a Cardinal (anymore) he was created one in 1977, one year after Cardinal Baum, and one year before the Year of Two Conclaves, 1978.] At 49, Baum was the youngest Cardinal in the College at the time of his creation. Now 86, there are still 43 Cardinals older than he is. But only one man has been a Cardinal longer.
Cardinal Baum was Archbishop of Washington from Watergate until the Iran Hostage Crisis. Then he was Prefect of the Congregation for Education through the entire Reagan presidency and halfway through Bush One. From then, he served as major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary through two Clinton terms and until Bush Two had been in office almost a year! His service in Rome as a member of many Congregations, which began in 1976 under Paul VI, continued until the end of 2007, well into the reign of Benedict XVI.
That is a huge span of time and experience, however you measure it. But what remains with me is his virtue and fidelity, his conscientious fulfillment of the office of Successor to the Apostles, his love for Christ, and his love for the Church. That is what I know he brought not only to every Conclave, but to every responsibility he has fulfilled in response to Christ’s call to him, from his first discernment of his priestly vocation.
No, I do not assume that every Cardinal in the College has the same degree of devotion and erudition, the same love for the Church, and the same lack of self-interest that I can attest to in Cardinal Baum. But he is just one example, albeit an extraordinary one, of the small group to which now turn all the eyes in the Church. Knowing him as well as I do, and many other Cardinals through him, I can say that I have a great and abiding confidence in this diverse assemblage of churchmen.
These Cardinals are all remarkable in their education and their dedication. They have a range of experiences and a variety of talents. All have committed their lives to Christ and his Church. They all have weaknesses, but together they are more than the sum of their parts. They have been vested with the solemn office of discerning who next will succeed to the Chair of Peter. Ulterior motives find little purchase. The Holy Spirit has willing cooperators in animating and directing the body of Christ.
What could I possibly add to that?