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Sight Magazine – Essay: Pope Francis appoints cardinals, setting the stage for election of his successor


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With the appointment of 16 new cardinal electors, Pope Francis continues to remake the College of Cardinals with an emphasis on the person rather than the location of the bishop. Nowhere was this emphasis more evident than in the United States, where he chose to elevate Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, while once again skipping older bishops in traditionally cardinal cities such than Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

He also made voters less Italian and less Eastern European but more Asian and African than they were when he was elected in 2013.

Pope Francis departs after presiding over a consistory inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, October 5, 2019. PHOTO: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini/File Photo.

Francis has also reduced the share of voters who are from the Vatican Curia from 35% at the 2013 conclave to 24% now.

With the appointment of these cardinals, Francis prepares the ground for the election of his successor.

San Diego has never had a cardinal, whereas Los Angeles (the nation’s largest archdiocese) and Philadelphia (one of the oldest) would have been considered cardinal sees in the past. McElroy is a strong supporter of Francis and his concern for the environment, immigrants and the poor. He did not favor the Communion’s denial of abortion rights politicians.

This preference for person over place was followed in dating elsewhere. Of the 16 people named, five are simple bishops and not archbishops. In Italy, for example, Bishop Oscar Cantoni of Como was made a cardinal, but neither the archbishops of Venice nor Milan were.

When Francis first did this in 2014 it was groundbreaking, but he has continued this pattern each time he has appointed cardinals.

The new cardinals will be created at a consistory on August 27, bringing the number of cardinal electors – those under the age of 80 – to 132. Although Pope Paul VI set the number of cardinal electors at 120, the Popes have ignored this limit. . Under John Paul II, the college reached an all-time high of 135.

Francis also greatly increased the share of the college coming from Asia and Africa. After the August consistory, 16% of cardinals will be from Asia and 13% from Africa. At the conclave that elected Francis, the percentages were only 9.4 for each continent.

The losers of this reallocation are Italy (from 24% to 17.4%) and Eastern Europe (from 9.4% to 5.3%).

Italy has had a roller coaster ride under the last three popes. Jean-Paul reduced the Italians to 16.5% of the college. Benedict has reduced them to 24%, and now Francis has reduced them to 17.4%, even more than at the end of John Paul’s pontificate.

Similarly, the Roman Curia went from 24% of the college at the end of John Paul’s pontificate to 35% under Benedict and 24% under Francis.

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Europe now represents 42% of the college, up from 52% at the 2013 conclave. Despite these losses, Italy and the rest of Europe will still hold a large block of votes at the next conclave.

Francis showed no preference for his own part of the world. Latin America has about 16% of voters, almost as many as in 2013. All of Latin America has fewer voters than Italy. John Paul II showed no such restraint in appointing cardinals from Eastern Europe.

The United States also lost representation: 7.6%, down from 9.4% in the 2013 conclave.

Each pope puts his own stamp on the College of Cardinals, seeking prelates who support his views on where the Church should go. Francis has now nominated 63% of the cardinal electors; 29% were nominated by Benoît and 8% by Jean-Paul.

The odds are now in favor of having another pope who will continue Francis’ policies, but you never know how cardinals will vote once they enter a conclave.

The Reverend Thomas J Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a senior analyst at the RNS.

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