In the News 2014

Pope Looks Beyond West With Cardinal Picks

 Pope Francis took one of his biggest steps yet to reshape the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy by appointing a batch of new cardinals hailing largely from the developing world.

The pontiff’s choices—including priests from Asia, two African countries and Haiti, marks a departure from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI’s tendency to appoint cardinals from Western countries and resumes a decadeslong push by earlier popes to tilt the College of Cardinals away from the rich world.

The shift reflects both the Catholic world’s changing demographics and Pope Francis’s emphasis on the pastoral mission of the church. As expected, the nominees included no new cardinals from the U.S.

During an audience at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis read the names of 19 new cardinals aloud, 16 of whom are under 80 and therefore currently young enough to vote in a conclave to elect a future pope.

The pope typically appoints new cardinals annually, and their main responsibility is to elect a new pope. But they also serve as advisers—a critical role at the moment given the many challenges Pope Francis faces in reforming a scandal-ridden Vatican and responding to the shifting global makeup of the church.

Of the 16 new voting cardinals, six are European, of whom four are Italian. An additional nine hail from the global south and Asia, including a new cardinal for the Philippines, a country long underrepresented in the College of Cardinals. The 77-year-old Argentine-born pope also selected a new cardinal—Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli —to represent his former diocese in Buenos Aires. A consistory, or the ceremony to elevate the new cardinals, will be held on Feb. 22.

“The pope’s selections remind us that the Church is booming in the global south,” said Chad Pecknold, assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America. “No pope has been as mindful of this as Francis…(Their work with the poor) will give them common cause with some progressives critical of the abuses of corporate expansion without regard for social capital or the common good.”

While the pontiff’s unpredictable leadership style had transformed the run-up into a wide-ranging and, at times, far-fetched guessing game,—some had hoped for the appointment of a woman cardinal— his choices stopped short of a radical reshuffling of the College of Cardinals that some within the church had anticipated.

For instance, he elevated four members of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that has seen multiple scandals in recent years.

Pope Francis established a cardinal committee in the fall that is charged with reforming the Curia, and he has made little secret of his dislike for careerism among the clergy.

He elevated Pietro Parolin, the longtime diplomat Pope Francis recently appointed as Secretary of State, as well as Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a German who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog. The pope turned also to bishops who are actively running dioceses, particularly in poor countries.

The pontiff “is beginning to transform the College of Cardinals to reflect his vision of ‘a poor church, for the poor,'” said Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

“The overall message is that there will be change and some continuity,” said the Rev. Robert Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall University’s School of Theology.

The conclave that elected the pontiff last year was one of the most diverse ever, with about half the cardinals from outside Europe.

Still, some obvious gaps remained. The Philippines had just one cardinal representing about 75 million Catholics, while the U.S., which has roughly the same number of Catholics, has 11 voting-age cardinals, according to Pew Research, based on 2010 figures.

Latin America, which has 400 million Catholics and is growing, had just 15 voting-age cardinals, while Europe, where church attendance is falling sharply, has 57 cardinals.

The total number of voting cardinals has traditionally been set at 120, although the pope can go under or over that number. There are currently 107 voting members of the College of Cardinals, with another three turning 80 by the end of May. Some had expected the pontiff to choose a larger number of new cardinals—as many as two dozen—to garner support for his reforms. But the pontiff can name another eight by the end of 2014 to replace those turning 80, and almost another several dozen by 2016.

Pope Francis also has the power to nominate cardinals who are over 80 years old and don’t enjoy voting rights—a move pontiffs have used to send a certain message. On Sunday, Pope Francis nominated three men over 80. One is Msgr. Loris Francesco Capovilla, the 98-year-old personal secretary to Pope John XXIII, who convened the 1960s-era Vatican II council that modernized the church and is considered a hero of the liberal wing of the church.

Pope Francis named no new cardinal in the U.S., not considered surprising since the country already has a considerable level of influence, and only 7% of the world’s Catholics, according to the Pew Research study.

But some also noted that the leadership in the American church has focused on political battles over gay marriage and abortion, while church leaders in developing countries are more consumed with issues of economic disparity—a theme the pope has strongly embraced.

Some American church leaders who might have been contenders “have some pretty conservative voices who seem to be out of step with Pope Francis,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a liberal Catholic advocacy group.

Last month, Pope Francis removed American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a conservative known for his strident defense of traditional values, from his position on a Vatican committee that chooses bishops, a move some interpreted as the pope’s distancing the church from hot-button social issues. Analysts were also watching Los Angeles and Philadelphia, two large dioceses whose cardinals have retired but are of voting age.

In particular, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez was considered a front-runner if Pope Francis had opted for a U.S. cardinal. The archbishop is a Mexican immigrant passionate about immigration and poverty, two issues dear to the pope.

This piece was originally published by the Wall Street Journal.

Catholics for Choice