When new cardinals are named, beware facile analysis
Sometime soon-- it could be at his Sunday audience-- Pope Francis will reveal his first appointments to the College of Cardinals.
The Holy Father has already announced that the red hats will be distributed at a consistory on February 22. Traditionally the Pontiff has identified the new cardinals several weeks before a consistory. Although Pope Francis is obviously not a stickler for tradition, there is a practical concern here as well: He needs to give the prelates time to plan their trips to Rome. So the announcements will almost certainly come within the next 10 days.
When the names of the new cardinals are revealed, we can expect a spate of stories analyzing the Pope's choices. Most Vatican-watchers expect the Pope to name a large number of cardinals from the southern hemisphere, diluting the European dominance in the College. That seems a safe assumption-- although by now we have learned that with Pope Francis, it's safest to expect the unexpected.
But let's assume that the Holy Father will, indeed, increase the international diversity of the College of Cardinals. What will that mean for the future of the Church? The conventional wisdom is that with more African and Asian and Latin American cardinals voting in the conclave, it's less likely that a Vatican "insider" will be elected the next Pope. Does that seem logical? Maybe so. But look at the recent historical record.
Pope John Paul II made the College of Cardinals more diverse, geographically speaking, than ever before in Church history. So what happened when he died? Those cardinals elected a Pope who had spent the past 24 years in a highly influential post in the Roman Curia. Pope Benedict XVI, with his choices, swung the College back toward a European-dominated group. And then what? The new, less diverse conclave elected the first New World Pontiff, a Pope who has taken pleasure in upsetting Vatican applecarts.
The moral of the story? Where the College of Cardinals is concerned, don't assume that geography is destiny.
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