Pope Benedict XVI last week named 22 new cardinals, elevating churchmen from 14 different countries – including two from the US and one from Canada – to help serve as his top advisors.
Cardinals under the age of 80 can vote in papal elections, and Benedict’s action brings to 125 the number of cardinals eligible to vote in the next papal conclave. Cardinals aged 80 and over are not allowed to vote in papal elections, although they can be elected pope.
Of the nearly two dozen men raised by the Holy Father, one stuck out – or at least his new title did. Manuel Monteiro de Castro of Portugal will serve as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
My first thought was, quite simply, that I didn’t realize the Vatican had a penitentiary.
I knew that when the Papal States, the Vatican’s predecessor, was in existence, it did indeed have prisons and even executed prisoners, like nearly all countries during the time when the Catholic Church held reign as a true temporal power (more than 1,000 years, up until 1870).
In fact, one of the places used as prison by the Papal States was Castel Sant’Angelo, now a much-visited museum, but once a papal castle. Executions were even carried out there.
But, of course, the Church isn’t exactly big on capital punishment anymore, has barely enough land or citizens today to warrant the operation of a prison and would probably be happy to let the Italian authorities deal with anything worthy of criminal prosecution, anyway.
Next month Italy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its unification. Now, as in 1861, some Italians question whether union was a good thing or bad.
Author David Gilmour considers the question in his book on Italy’s recent history, “The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples.”
Among the most noticeable problems is the country’s north-south divide, according to a review of Gilmour’s work in The Economist. In 1861 only one Italian in 40 spoke the language (King Victor Emmanuel II barely did so).