Noises are being made in the Vatican about a possible Consistory for the creation of new cardinals in autumn or possibly later, in the first few months of 2012

his would confirm Benedict XVI’s tendency to never leave the College of Cardinals overly weakened, in case of a possible conclaveBenedict XVIwas 84 last April; he carefully guards his energies and is continuously monitored by his medical team (who found some of his numbers inching too high over the past few weeks, and advised him to start eating a special diet), so it’s reasonable to think that his reign will continue. But he is still well past 80 years old, with a spotty medical history.

The maximum number of voting cardinals (that is, those who are not yet 80) is 120. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the number of voting cardinals will be 105 by the end of the year – within six months. That number will drop to 99 by June 2012, and 92 by the end of 2012. This is why it is extremely likely that Pope Ratzinger will distribute a certain number of berrettas, the traditional headgear of short-term cardinals.

Also because of the most recent Consistory of 20 November 2011, he left several names, countries, and continents on the waiting list. The biggest question mark is over some excellent names and dioceses. For example: New York, Turin, Florence, Toledo, and Quebec. It was the Holy See’s running policy (though not always respected) not to make the head of a diocese a cardinal if his predecessor, no longer governor of the diocese itself, is not yet 80 years old and therefore excluded from the list of those who might choose the next pope.

In Italy, this policy is not always respected. When a new Archbishop of GenoaAngelo Bagnasco – was appointed, he received the berretta even though his predecessor, Tarcisio Bertone, was well under 80 (and still is) and worked in the Vatican as Secretary of State to Benedict XVI. However, in the last batch of cardinals Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence, was not elevated to cardinal, even though his predecessor Ennio Antonelli held an important position in the Vatican. An analogous situation is that of Gerard Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec - Marc Quellet, his predecessor, is the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. Similarly at Toledo, Braulio Rodriguez Plaza has a predecessor cardinal, Canizares Llovera, who is, however, at the Vatican leading the Congregation for Divine Worship. If the rule applied to Bagnasco and Bertone is judged applicable for them as well, it could trigger possible appointments. The situation of Cesare Nosiglia of Turin is more complex - the former Savoy capital already has a cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus Severino Poletto, who will be 80 years old in 2013. Meanwhile, it is quite likely that Timothy Michael Dolan, the pugnacious Archbishop of New York and President of the Conference of Bishops, will receive the berretta. It is true he has a predecessor in the diocese, Edward Michael Egan, who will turn 80 in April of 2012. And the sympathy with which Benedict XVI regards the American Church - and Dolan in particular – is well-known. The archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols and his predecessor Murphy O'Connor found themselves in the same position as Dolan and Egan. It looks likely that Nichols too will be receiving a biretta.

A nearly certain appointment in the next Consistory is that of Ricardo Ezzati, the Salesian Archbishop of Santiago, as well as that of Bechara Rai, the newly-elected leader of the Maronites in Lebanon. Another likely candidate is the Archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano. But not counting the Curia, where some old and new heads of departments await the berretta (a sure thing for Brazilian João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life), Taiwan and Thailand expect a cardinal, and in Africa, some countries that are without a cardinal - Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Ivory Coast and Cameroon – can have some uncertain hope.