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Speculation grows over next month's new cardinals

Will Pope Francis reduce the Italian contingent?

Speculation grows over next month's new cardinals

Picture: AFP Photo/Vincenzo Pinto

Thomas Reese for National Catholic Reporter
Vatican City

January 7, 2014

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Next month, Pope Francis will create at least 14 cardinals, an action that will not only impact his papacy and the church today, but will also determine the direction of the church after his papacy. One of these cardinals may even be the next pope.

Because of the cardinals' role in the church, their creation is one of the most important actions of a pope. Cardinals fulfill three important functions in the church.

First, cardinals provide leadership in their own countries. Although canonically they do not have any power over other bishops, they tend to head the largest archdioceses and have great influence in their episcopal conferences. They also get more attention in the media; people in red hats tend to stand out in a crowd.

Second, cardinals help the pope in the governance of the universal church. Not only are cardinals the heads of major offices in the Roman Curia; diocesan cardinals also serve as members of Vatican congregations and councils advising these offices and the pope. They are also more likely to be chosen to attend Synods of Bishops.

Finally, and most importantly, they will elect the next pope, who most likely will be a cardinal himself, although that is not required. As a result, whom the pope appoints as cardinals is one of the most important ways he can influence the future direction of the church.

The church today is a church of many nations and cultures, not simply the European church of earlier centuries. The College of Cardinals needs to reflect that reality. When talking about the internationalization of the College of Cardinals, the giant in the room is Italy, which, with only 4 percent of the world's Catholics, has always had a disproportionate share of the college.

Up until the papacy of Pius XII, a majority of the cardinals were from Italy. When he was elected in 1939, 57 percent of the cardinals were from Italy and 32 percent were from the rest of Europe. He reduced the Italian contingent to a third of the college while increasing the number of cardinals from outside Europe, including the first cardinals with sees in China, Africa and India. But the major winner was Latin America, which went from 3 percent of the college to 16 percent, setting the stage for the election of the first Latin American pope last year.

The Italians staged a small comeback under the papacy of John XXIII but were reduced to 24 percent of the college by Paul VI. John Paul II continued this trend so that at his death, the Italians had only 16.5 percent of the college. Under Pope Benedict, however, the Italians made a strong comeback: They regained all they lost under John Paul and were 24 percent of the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

The first question Pope Francis must face: Does he allow Italy to maintain the gains it made under Benedict, or does he follow the example of Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II and reduce the Italian contingent?

If Italy is the giant in the room, Latin America is Cinderella. Latin America has more than 40 percent of the world's Catholics but has never had more than 20 percent of the College of Cardinals.

Full Story: New cardinals to be appointed may include next pope

Source: National Catholic Reporter


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