In pectore

In pectore (Latin for "in the breast/heart"; pronounced /ɪn ˈpɛktɒrɛ/) is a term used in the Catholic Church to refer to appointments to the College of Cardinals by the Pope whose names are not publicly revealed (hence reserved by the Pope "in his bosom"). This right of the pope is rarely exercised, usually in circumstances where the pope wants to make a statement for later historians about the honour due a particular cleric, while not wanting to endanger that same cleric in his present circumstances of persecution.


Popes may choose to keep cardinals' identities secret out of consideration for:

Cardinals appointed in pectore are not necessarily informed of their status, and their cardinalate (seniority) is calculated from the time of appointment rather than the announcement of that fact. Such an appointee cannot function as cardinal until his appointment is publicly announced, which once done, includes eligibility to participate in papal conclaves. Should a pope fail to do so, the cardinalate of an appointee ceases upon the appointing pontiff's death. Four popes, Innocent X,[1] Benedict XIV, Gregory XVI and Pius IX, were originally created as cardinals in pectore but all were published quite soon afterward.

Areas where it is believed that unnamed in pectore cardinals were appointed are the People's Republic of China and, before the fall of the Soviet Union and collapse of the Iron Curtain, in central and Eastern Europe.



In the early history of cardinals, all cardinals appointed were published as a matter of course. The first pope to appoint a cardinal in pectore was Pope Paul III, when he named Girolamo Aleandro in this fashion on 22 December 1536, presumably because Aleandro's life would have been in danger were he publicly named a cardinal. Cardinal Aleandro was published on 13 March 1538, and Paul III later named five other cardinals in pectore, but all of them were published relatively soon after being originally named.

The first Pope to create a cardinal in pectore without later publishing his name was Pope Pius IV, on 26 February 1561. Historians have always speculated about who unpublished in pectore cardinals were, and it is generally believed that this first unpublished in pectore cardinal was Daniele Matteo Alvise Barbaro, whose appointment as a cardinal would have upset the English monarchy and caused hostilities unwanted by the pope.

Although in pectore appointments were not uncommon in the 17th century, all such appointments were published soon after being made until 1699, when Pope Innocent XII named two cardinals who were never published. This trend continued until 26 April 1773, when Pope Clement XIV created as many as eleven cardinals in pectore, none of whom were published.

Late 18th and 19th centuries

As anti-Catholic hostility among various governments became common, in pectore appointments became much more common during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Whereas before 1777 all expirations of in pectore appointments had occurred because the pope making them died soon after, on 23 June of that year Pope Pius VI created two cardinals in pectore and never revealed their names in the remaining 22 years of his papacy. He did the same seven years later for another cardinal.

Pope Pius VII created eleven cardinals in pectore; despite anti-Church attitudes during the French Revolution, all of them were eventually published, as were Pope Leo XII's three in pectore appointments.

The outbreak of major revolutions in Europe during the late 1820s, however, caused the proportion of in pectore appointments to all cardinal appointments to rise dramatically: Pope Pius VIII created fourteen cardinals, but only six were ever published, whilst Pope Gregory XVI created as many as twenty-nine cardinals (out of a total of eighty-one) in pectore (of which six were unpublished).

After the Revolutions of 1848 subsided, in pectore appointments declined. Pius IX made only five such appointments out of 123 cardinals (all published within four years of creation), whilst Pope Leo XIII named only seven cardinals (out of 147) in pectore, of whom all were subsequently revealed.

Modern Papacy

The only in pectore appointment by Pope Pius X, António Mendes Belo, was due to the revolution in Portugal in 1910 and was revealed shortly before Pius died. World War I similarly produced an in pectore cardinal, appointed in 1916 by Benedict XV: Adolf Bertram, who was published after the war ended and who became a vigorous opponent of Nazism. (Another in pectore cardinal was also appointed in 1916 and was never published.)

Pope Pius XI created only one cardinal in pectore, Federico Tedeschini (who was nuncio to Spain just before the Spanish Civil War) in 1933 (published 1935). Neither Pius XI nor Pope Pius XII made any other in pectore appointments, either in European countries affected by the possibility of Marxist revolutions and/or World War II or in any other countries.

With the threat of Communism lingering over Eastern Europe and other parts of the globe, Pope John XXIII made three in pectore appointments on 28 March 1960 and never published them, creating the only other case of such an appointment expiring during the twentieth century. It is probable according to many sources that one was Josyf Slipyj, (re-)created cardinal and published by Paul VI in 1965.

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.

Pope John Paul I created no cardinals during his short reign, whilst Pope John Paul II named four cardinals (of 232 overall) in pectore, of whom all but one were subsequently revealed:

Term usage

Other than its religious meaning and origin, nowadays in pectore is normally used to refer to either something kept hidden or unrevealed or an expected, but still not official, appointment to an office (especially in politics).

The Italian language version of the phrase in petto – is also commonly used.

In popular culture

Conclave, Robert Harris’s 2016 novel set during a fictional papal conclave, includes a character, Vincent Benítez, appointed cardinal in pectore by the late pope.[2]


  1. Kelly, J. N. D.; Walsh, Michael J., eds. (2014) [2010]. "Innocent X". The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199295814.001.0001. ISBN 9780191726811 via Oxford Reference Online. (subscription required (help)).
  2. Sansom, Ian (24 Sep 2016). "Conclave by Robert Harris review—a triumphant Vatican showdown". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 Nov 2016.

External links

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