Pope places his mark on College of Cardinals

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. With the appointment of 20 cardinal electors, Pope Benedict XVI continues to put his mark … Continued

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

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, who work in the Vatican bureaucracy, 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 Europeand 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.

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. | 
October 20, 2010; 7:30 PM ET

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  • EugenePagano

    Welcome back! I’ve missed your sage commentary.

  • Chicagoatty

    Father Reese provides some generally interesting commentary but there really is not much here. We learn that Father Reese doesn’t much like “conservatives,” or members of the curia. Also, his statistics are not very informative. A change of a few percentage points in geographic represenation is not very important. That the American representation in the consistory rose ONE percent is truly meaningless. Ultimately, Father Reese’s point is that the “radical” changes he is hoping for in the Church will not happen in the next conclave. Good. The cardinals are not supposed to go in with a political agenda; they are supposed to seek and follow the will of the Holy Spirit.

  • Xavier3

    Chicagoatty needs a much more sophisticated understanding of cardinalatial appointments. Each candidate has a very political agenda, unacknowledged or not.As for the Holy Spirit’s role in selecting personnel, here is Ratzinger on the matter, when asked in 1997 if He/She is responsible for who gets elected pope:“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. PROBABLY THE ONLY ASSURANCE HE OFFERS IS THAT THE THING CANNOT BE TOTALLY RUINED…There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked.”I daresay the same analogy holds for the selection of cardinals and bishops.Thank you, Tom Reese, for your integrity over the years. It’s a wild political climate in which to operate. Remember, when Rome has spoken the case is not closed; the debate just begins.