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Experts reflect on the Pope's choice of new cardinals

January 06, 2012

Commenting on Pope Benedict’s selection of 22 new members for the College of Cardinals, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter notes that the Pontiff has increased the strength—already disproportionate—of European and especially Italian cardinals among the group that will choose his successor.

Along with the European influence, Allen notes the remarkable number of cardinal-electors who work, or have worked, in the Roman Curia. Finally, Allen notes that only one cardinal was chosen from Latin America, and none from Africa. Thus the Pope’s choices come largely from a continent where the Catholic faith is on the wane, and not from the emerging nations where the faith is growing.

The selection of New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan is noteworthy because it breaks an informal rule: ordinarily, a residential archbishop is not named a cardinal if his successor is alive, under the age of 80, and thus eligible to vote in a conclave. Archbishop Dolan’s predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, is still a cardinal-elector. Nevertheless he will receive a red hat, apparently because of the Pope’s respect for Archbishop Dolan personally, for his post as president of the US bishops’ conference, and for the importance of the New York archdiocese.

That unspoken rule does apply, however, to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England’s leading prelate, who will not receive a red hat this year. The previous Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, will turn 80 in August. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia may also have been affected by the usual rule, since Cardinal Justin Rigali is only 76 years old.

One other noteworthy omission from the Pope’s list, Allen observes, is Archbishop Salvatore (“Rino”) Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict clearly sees the “new evangelization” as a top priority, and by raising the president of this newly created dicastery to the College of Cardinals, he might have given it extra prominence.

Writing just before the Pope made his list public, Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa confirmed his standing as a reliable Vatican analyst by correctly identifying 17 of the 18 prelates who would be named as cardinal-electors. Tornielli missed only one of the Curial officials on the Pope’s list. Among the archbishops he named as likely to receive a red hat only one--Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai—was not among the Pope’s selections.


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  • Posted by: normnuke - Jan. 06, 2012 11:10 PM ET USA

    As usual, Allen shines light and focus on events that would otherwise pass unremarked. Perhaps the emphasis on curial experience may reflect Holy Father's judgment that governance, at least for now, trumps pastoral needs. This would be a terrible time, for instance, for a new John XXIII. Also, Africa may be being thrust under Islam, while Latin America falls into Socialism.