VATICAN CITY – What happens to the mystery cardinal the late Pope John Paul II selected in 2003 but never publicly identified?
Will the world ever find out who was picked?
Vatican watchers wondered Monday whether there was still a way in accordance with Church law for this unidentified "prince of the Church" to take his place among the cardinals and, if he is young enough, vote for the new pope.
When John Paul created new cardinals in 2003, he announced that he was keeping one name secret, or "in pectore," meaning "in the heart." This is a formula that has been used when the pope wants to name a cardinal in a country where the church is oppressed.
Vatican watchers have speculated that the prelate could be from China, where only a state-sanctioned church is recognized.
But Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz (search), John Paul's longtime private secretary who was at his bedside when he died, has also been mentioned as the possible secret cardinal.
The Rev. James Conn, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University (search) in Rome, said that if John Paul identified the man in writing in some authenticated document before he died, the man would be a cardinal.
"I think that any means of publishing the name of the cardinal that was previously not revealed, including in some testimonial that was authenticated, would be acceptable," Conn said.
Canon law says only that the pope has to make his name public. But it doesn't say whether that has to be done orally, he said.
Once the name is made public, the cardinal "is bound by the same duties and possesses the same rights" of the other cardinals, including the right to vote for a new pope if he is younger than 80, canon law says.
There are now 117 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave to elect John Paul's successor.
John Paul has named three other "in pectore" cardinals whose names were later revealed, including Marian Jaworski (search), archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine, for Catholics who follow the Latin rite, and Janis Pujats (search) of Riga, Latvia.
Both Ukraine and Latvia formerly belonged to the officially atheist Soviet Union.
The third was Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei (search), an elderly Chinese bishop who spent 30 years in Chinese prisons for defying attempts by China's communist government to control Roman Catholics through the state-run church.
While in prison in 1979, he was named "in pectore" by John Paul in the first group of cardinals named by the pontiff.
His name was made public in 1991, nine years before he died in Connecticut at the age of 98.