Benedict XVI divides up the world, names new cardinals

Portrait of a cardinal by Raphael, the great Vatican painter and architect.News of Benedict XVI’s latest crop of cardinals is buzzing around the religious world, because of his obvious attention to restoring the power of the Italians within the 1-billion-member worldwide church—and his apparent willingness to place burgeoning Catholic communities in Africa and Latin America on a relative back burner. At least that’s how much of the world’s press is portraying these moves.

These issues are of interest far beyond the small realm of Vatican watchers, because all of the world’s major religious leaders are contemplating the global expansion of faith. In this latest announcement, the Earth’s single most influential religious leader has made his worldwide priorities clear.

If you get your news from TV, newspapers or Google, you’re likely to have seen headlines on this historic announcement over the past day or so. Pretty much, these 100s of brief stories are mirror images of each other—even in more far-flung publications like The Economist and The Australian.

At ReadTheSpirit, we regard the Rev. Thomas Reese—the Jesuit scholar, journalist and author—to be one of the world’s leading commentators on the Vatican. This week, Tom gave permission to publish his latest piece on the new cardinals. His analysis provides a lot more fascinating background for general readers (and especially for non-Catholic readers). You probably won’t find these details while Googling for news, so we’re sharing Tom’s story, headlined …

Pope Benedict XVI places his mark on College of Cardinals

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.

With the appointment of 20 cardinal electors, Pope Benedict XVI continues to put his mark on the College of Cardinals, which will eventually elect his successor. Benedict has now appointed 40% of the college, with the rest chosen by his predecessor. Granted his age, these could easily be the cardinals who will choose the next pope.

The appointments will be made official at a Vatican consistory on November 20, which will bring the college up to 121 electors under the age of 80, one more elector than the rules allow. The pope dispensed himself from the rules. In the unlikely chance the pope died before the consistory, the cardinal designates would not be cardinals and could not enter the conclave.

Change in the College of Cardinals is always incremental. As cardinals die or turn 80, they create vacancies in the college that the pope can fill. This pope, like his predecessor, continues to appoint men who reflect his own views on theology and other issues facing the church. The likelihood of these conservative cardinals electing someone who would institute radical change in the church is extremely unlikely.

A major difference between the cardinals appointed by the two popes is that while John Paul reduced the percentage of Italian and curial cardinals in the college, and Benedict is bringing them back into prominence. After the November consistory, curial cardinals will make up about 28% of the college, up from 24% when Benedict was elected. In fact, half of the new appointees were from the Vatican curia.

Increasing the number of curial cardinals would help guarantee the election of a conservative candidate. More Italians increases the likelihood of the election to the papacy of an Italian pope.

One of John Paul’s major goals in appointing cardinals was to increase the number of cardinals from Eastern Europe, from which he came. The percentage of the college from Eastern Europe went up to 10.4% at the end of his reign, from 6.1% when he was elected. He reduced the size of the Italian bloc in order to get red hats for Eastern Europe.

When John Paul died, the Italians were only 16.5% of the college, while at his election they were 23.7%. After the November consistory, Italians will make up 20.7% of the College of Cardinals, a number equal to all of the rest of Western Europe and greater than all of Latin America.

Also increased by Benedict is the representation of the United States from 9.6% at the 2005 conclave to 10.7% after the November consistory.

In order to increase the number of Italians and Americans, Benedict had to reduce slightly the percentage from Latin American, Asia, Oceania, Canada and other parts of Europe. The percentage from Africa has remained stable under Benedict.

Most of the appointments were not surprising. For example, heads of major curial offices, like Archbishop Raymond Burke, were expected to get red hats. But did the pope really have to promote the heads of the offices for culture, economic affairs, Cor Unum, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and the patron of the Knights of Malta? Some of them, perhaps, but all of them? (Elsewhere I have argued that no curial officials should be made cardinals.)

There were few surprises among the new cardinals from archdioceses. With Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington over 80 years of age, it was time to make Archbishop Donald Wuerl a cardinal. Nor was it a surprise that Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York did not get a red hat since his predecessor is alive and under 80 years of age. Cardinal Edward Egan will turn 80 in April 2012, soon after which Dolan will be made a cardinal.

Even though the pope exceeded by one the number of vacancies to be filled, the pope still had to pass over archbishops in archdioceses like Dublin, Florence, Utrecht, Toledo, Minsk-Mohilev, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Ouagadougou, Antananarivo, Abuja, and Tokyo. They will have to wait until next time.

Many felt Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin should have been rewarded with a red hat for his work cleaning up the sex abuse crisis in Ireland. Since he is only 65, he still has time to become a cardinal in the future.

On the other hand, people were surprised that two retired residential archbishops got the nod. If an archbishop does not become a cardinal while he is in office, he usually never gets it.

The College of Cardinals is not a young group. The average age of the electors is 71, even though they are booted out at 80. Another 10 cardinals will turn 80 next year, followed by another 13 in 2012. Thus it is likely that a new flock of cardinals will be appointed while the U.S. is in the midst of another election.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, part of Georgetown University, Washington, DC

You can purchase Reese’s “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church” from Amazon now.

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