With pope's death, secret cardinal will never be known

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II will take a secret to the grave when he is buried tomorrow: the identity of the last cardinal he named.

The mystery stems from the rare papal practice of naming cardinals in pectore, or "close to the heart." Popes have usually done this to honor a prelate's service in a country where the Roman Catholic Church is persecuted without further straining the Holy See's relations with that nation or exposing the prelate to harassment.

Sometimes even the cardinal in question is unaware of his honor. And until the pope who appointed him announces his identity, he cannot receive his scarlet biretta or take his place in the College of Cardinals as a "prince of the church."

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said yesterday that Pope John Paul's final spiritual testament, a 15-page document to be made public today, does not reveal the name of the cardinal whose in pectore appointment was announced in 2003 along with 30 who were identified.

That means the mystery cardinal, unlike his 183 peers who are named for life, will never learn of his rank and will not be able to join the College of Cardinals in electing a new pope.

"If the holy father had made that person's name known before dying, it would have been disclosed by now," said Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka of Michigan. "It's over. That person will no longer be a cardinal."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.