It sounds like something out of the Da Vinci Code but it’s true. The Pope can appoint cardinals in secret. It is called in pectore (meaning “in the breast”). Taylor Marshall did a post on this which I found fascinating. No one knows about these appointments except the Pope. Marshall points out “that there are and could be cardinals out there who do not even know that they are cardinals!” He continues,
The practice is used today in order to protect hierarchs from hostile situations or tyrants (as is the case in China).
When political conditions change, the Pope then makes the appointment public. The secret cardinal would then rank in precedence with those raised to the cardinalate at the time of his secret in pectore appointment. However, if a pope dies before revealing a secret in pectore cardinal, the cardinalate expires.
Do we know of any Cardinals in pectore? Yes, we do.
We know that Pope Blessed John Paul II elevated at least four in pectore cardinals, but we only know the identity of three:
- Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, Bishop of Shanghai, People’s Republic of China – made cardinal 1979, revealed 1991, died 2000.
- Marian Jaworski, Archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine – made cardinal 1998, revealed 2001.
- Jānis Pujāts, Archbishop of Riga, Latvia – made cardinal 1998, revealed 2001.
The fourth cardinal was created in 2003, but was never revealed. This would mean that this cardinal’s tenure expired at the death of the Holy Father.
 “His Holiness John Paul II Short Biography.” Holy See Press Office. 30 June 2005.