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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Papal direction – Pope picks boost Asian, U.S., European presence

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service (

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI's first group of cardinal appointments sent signals about the direction and priorities of his papacy. They also spotlighted church leaders who, in diverse ways and on different continents, are involved in cultural and social battles that are clearly on the pope's radar.

The pope announced the appointments Feb. 22 and will formally install the 15 new cardinals March 24.

He also convened a March 23 meeting of the entire College of Cardinals for "prayer and reflection," a move that suggested he intends to consult with the world's cardinals and then decide how they can best be used during his papacy.

The pope hinted at a strong advisory role for the cardinals when he said, before announcing the new names, that the college was like a senate designed to support and assist the papal ministry.

Some Vatican officials believe Pope Benedict will convene the cardinals more often than his predecessor, perhaps annually, to get their input on important church affairs. Likewise, they expect the pope to create new cardinals more frequently.

That line of thinking was strengthened when, this time around, he named only 12 cardinals under the age of 80, respecting the limit of 120 voting-age cardinals. The 120 ceiling was something Pope John Paul II routinely waived.

Pope John Paul also tended to wait longer to name new cardinals, presiding over megaconsistories where he handed out 30 or 40 red hats.

Instead, Pope Benedict may take a "topping up" approach, which means that new groups of cardinals could be named every year. By mid-2007, for example, at least 13 more places will be available among voting-age cardinals.

Geographically, the pope's appointments boosted the U.S. and European presence in the College of Cardinals. The naming of Archbishops William J. Levada, head of the Vatican doctrinal congregation, and Sean P. O'Malley of Boston raised the number of U.S. voting-age cardinals to 13, a historically high number.

Eight of the 15 new cardinals – and six of the 12 voting-age cardinals – are European. That would leave Europe with exactly 50 percent of the voters in a hypothetical conclave, a slight rebound from recent years.

Eight of the nine Europeans named are from West European countries, and the lone East European – Cardinal-designate Franc Rode – is a Vatican official. The church may see a reversal of the trend initiated by Pope John Paul, who greatly increased the number of East European cardinals in the post-communist era.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the pope's nominations was that three voting-age cardinals came from Asia and none from Africa. Vatican sources have long said that they view Asia as the new frontier for evangelization. By naming cardinals in South Korea, the Philippines and Hong Kong, the pope raised the church's profile there and gave Asia a significantly stronger voice in a potential conclave.

Some church observers were surprised that only one Latin American figured on the list, and none were from Brazil, which has the biggest Catholic population in the world and only three voting-age cardinals.

Also somewhat surprising was that the pope named only three Vatican officials, those whose jobs require them to be made cardinals. The lack of a red hat for several heads of pontifical councils – the second tier of the Roman Curia – was yet another signal that a reform of those agencies is imminent, with some councils expected to be combined or eliminated.

Of the resident archbishops on the cardinal list, two were Pope Benedict appointees: Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the longtime secretary to Pope John Paul, and Venezuelan Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas.

Archbishop Urosa has been trying to soothe church-state relations in Venezuela, which have been strained during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, by shifting the church's attention away from partisan politics and toward the larger moral and social issues in the country.

In Hong Kong, Cardinal-designate Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has been prodding the Chinese government on religious freedom issues for several years. In recent months, he has spoken publicly and hopefully about a breakthrough in Vatican-China relations and taken steps to encourage unity among Chinese Catholics.

South Korean Cardinal-designate Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul made headlines last year when he voiced moral objections in a personal meeting with Hwang Woo-suk, a cloning scientist whose research was later discredited. The Seoul archbishop also has openly discussed the need for future evangelization in North Korea.

In Italy, Cardinal-designate Carlo Caffarra of Bologna has for years been one of the "cultural warriors," speaking out strongly on issues like abortion and gay marriage. One of his more frequently quoted teachings is that when society legally recognizes gay marriage it is in effect saying: "We no longer have hope, we are allied with death."

Spanish Cardinal-designate Antonio Canizares Llovera of Toledo, a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1995, knows the pope well. In Spain, he helped organize recent public protests against gay marriage and has been outspoken in opposition to measures that would legalize euthanasia and embryonic research and grant wider access to abortion.

Moreover, the Spanish archbishop has been insistent about the need to restore Europe's Christian roots, sharply criticizing the idea that modern society can relegate the church and the faith to a strictly private sphere.

In short, although appointed archbishop by Pope John Paul, Archbishop Canizares is very much a Pope Benedict cardinal, eager to pick up on the new pontiff's talking points.

Over his 26-year papacy, Pope John Paul gradually shaped the College of Cardinals, naming all but two cardinal-electors in the conclave that followed his death. Over the same period, however, the average age of the electors rose to over 70 and is now more than 72.

That's one reason why it may not take long for Pope Benedict to put his own stamp on the college. Five years from now, he will have had the opportunity to name at least 51 of the 120 cardinal voters, or 42 percent of the total.

  • Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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