Opinion Thomas Reese: Signs of the Times

Francis cardinals make up almost half of electors of next pope

New Cardinal Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, from Laos, is greeted by Pope Francis after receiving the red three-cornered biretta hat during a consistory inside the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

New Cardinal Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, from Laos, is greeted by Pope Francis after receiving the red three-cornered biretta hat during a consistory inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

(RNS) — Pope Francis continues to remake the College of Cardinals so that almost half of the men who will pick his successor have been chosen by him. He will create 14 new cardinals on June 29, 11 of whom are under 80 years of age and therefore able to vote in a papal conclave.

These 11 new cardinals are added to the 48 electors already appointed by Francis to make 47 percent of the cardinal electors who will choose the next pope. Remaining among the 125 electors are 47 appointed by Pope Benedict XVI and 19 appointed by St. John Paul II.

Next year, another 10 cardinals will turn 80 years of age and become ineligible to vote in a conclave, allowing Francis to make more appointments.

Francis continues to break tradition by passing over the archbishops of large European and American archdioceses who have usually been made cardinals. Rather, he picked bishops from Iraq, Pakistan, Japan, Peru, Madagascar and L’Aquila, a small city in southern Italy that suffered from a major earthquake in 2009.

None of the new cardinals is from the United States, which currently has 10 cardinal electors.

As a result of his appointments, Francis has reduced the Italian faction among the electors to 18 percent, down from 24 percent when he was elected in 2013. This number is still 1 percentage point higher than when Benedict was elected in 2005. The Italians are simply back to their traditional quota under John Paul before Benedict increased their numbers.

Eastern Europeans have also continued to lose their percentage of the college, as they did under Benedict. They are now down to 7 percent of the electors from a high of 13 percent under John Paul, who increased their number significantly at the expense of Italy. Western Europe (minus Italy) has continued fairly steady for decades, now at 18 percent.

Pope Francis, left, greets Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI during a Mass to create 20 new cardinals during a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Feb. 14, 2015. Photo courtesy Osservatore Romano

The real winners under Francis have been Asia and Africa, now 14 percent and 13 percent respectively. These are the highest percentages that they have ever had. At the conclave that elected Francis, they each had 9 percent of the electors.

Surprisingly, unlike John Paul, Francis has not significantly increased the percentage of the college from his part of the world, Latin America. After June, Latin America will have only 18 percent of the electors, less than 2 percentage points higher than when he was elected. Latin America actually had more cardinals (27) back in 2001.

Francis has also significantly reduced the Roman Curia’s hold over the electoral college. They will be 26 percent of the college, down from 35 percent when he was elected. But again, this is not revolutionary. The Curia’s control of the college was only 24 percent at the election of Benedict.

When it comes to Italy and the Roman Curia in the College of Cardinals, Francis is not revolutionary. He is just getting back to the numbers under John Paul after Benedict knocked them out of whack.

And while Francis has been more generous with Asia and Africa, they are still dwarfed by Europe, which has 42 percent of the electors. In fact, Europe has almost as many cardinal electors as Asia, Africa and Latin America combined.

Change comes very slowly in the Catholic Church, even under Pope Francis.

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

13 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Francis isn’t the first pope to try to stack the deck in the hopes of influencing the selection of his successor. But there’s something about that secret ballot that makes the College of Cardinals unpredictable. The men he’s named from the developing world tend to be big on social justice but doctrinely conservative. There’s no telling how they’ll vote when it’s time.

    To me, the most interesting thing Francis has done is chip away at the geographical imbalance in the College. Western Europe and North America still have a stranglehold on the votes, but that’s slowly melting away. If the trend continues, in time they’ll no longer be able to form the kind of voting blocs that were responsible for the election of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

    There’s only safe bet about the next conclave, and it’s that an American isn’t likely to emerge as pope. We yanks were always a long shot, but with the addition of so many new cardinals from nations we’ve screwed over for so long? Fuggedaboudit.

  • The more cardinals from Africa, the greater the chance of pushback in the future against the pathetic liberalism this Pope, and his Jesuits as a collective, are in love with.
    Still, the largely worthless western European cardinals, full of apostates and heretics, will not give up their progressive tyranny anytime soon.

  • Let me point out that since the majority of the cardinals were from Western Europe and North America, anyone selected would have been a result of that voting bloc, which of course includes the current pontiff.

  • I thought of that and you’re probably right, assuming there were voting blocs in the last papal election. If there were, my suspicion is that the cardinals didn’t know quite what they were getting in Francis, just as those who elected John XXIII didn’t know what they were getting.

    It also seems that every papal election is at least in part in reaction to the last one. For example, John Paul II was very young at the time he was chosen, which probably had something to do with John Paul I dying so soon after election, and so forth.

    Voting blocs aside, for me (and I suspect for this pope) the greater issue is one of equity. Italy has less than 5% of the world’s Catholic population, but by far the greatest number of cardinal electors at 20 — five times as many as Brazil, which has nearly 12% of the world’s Catholics. The U.S. has 7% of the world’s Catholics but is second only to Italy with 10 cardinal electors.

    Obviously, that kind of imbalance has deep historic roots and it isn’t going to be corrected overnight. But I give Francis credit for taking a crack at it.

  • Compared to how it was when I was a young man, the Italian grip has greatly lessened.

    Of course Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s father, Mario José Bergoglio, was an Italian immigrant from Portacomaro in the Piedmont region and his mother, Regina María Sívori was born in a family of northern Italian (Piedmontese-Genoese) origin.

    As I understand it the Holy Father knows some Piedmontese from his grandparents (his father did not like to speak it) but had to learn standard Italian when elected.

  • In that sense, Francis may be the ideal bridge from the old European guard to whatever comes next, which I imagine will be a period of popes from the Southern Hemisphere. It’ll be interesting to see.

  • Once again, said institution has no foundation:

    https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=8154&repos=1&subrepos=0&searchid=441843
    Fr. Raymond Brown could not prove on historical grounds, he said, that Christ instituted the priesthood or episcopacy as such; that those who presided at the Eucharist were really priests; that a separate priesthood began with Christ; that the early Christians looked upon the Eucharist as a sacrifice; that presbyter-bishops are traceable in any way to the Apostles; that Peter in his lifetime would be looked upon as the Bishop of Rome; that bishops were successors of the Apostles, even though Vatican II made the same claim.

    • The stories of Christ’s birth are dubious history.
    • Early Christians understood themselves as a renewed Israel, not immediately as a new Israel.
    • We must nuance any statement which would have the historical Jesus institute the Church or the priesthood at the Last Supper.
    • In the New Testament we are never told that the Eucharistic power was passed from the Twelve to missionary apostles to presbyter-bishops.
    • Only in the third and fourth century can one take for granted that when “priests” are mentioned, ministers of the Eucharist are meant.
    • The Twelve were neither missionaries or bishops.
    • Sacramental powers were given to the Christian Community in the persons of the Twelve.
    • Presbyter-bishops described in the New Testament are not traceable “in any way” to the successors of the Twelve.
    • The episcopate gradually emerged, but can be defended “as divinely established by Christ” only if one says it emerged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    • Peter cannot be looked upon as the Bishop of the early Roman Church community. Succession to his Church fell to the Bishop of Rome, the city where Peter died. However, that concentration of authority produces, says Brown, “difficulties such as those we are now encountering within Catholicism.”
    • Vatican II was “biblically naive” when it called Catholic bishops successors of the Apostles.
    • It is dangerous to assume that second century structures existed in the first century.

    See also http://intotheexpectation.blogspot.com/2012/04/raymond-brown-on-bodily-resurrection.html

  • What does Crossan and other religious historians conclude about the historic
    reliability of said foundation: (Think ill of Crossan’s work if you want but he has done his
    homework as shown by the content of the books he has written- See
    http://www.amazon.com for a compilation.

    John 14: 26 not historic ( 62-. Spirit under Trial: (1) 1Q: Luke 12:11-12 = Matt
    10:19-20; (2) Mark 13:11 = Matt 10: 19-20 = Luke 21:14-15; (3) John 14:26.)

    John 16:13- not reviewed by Crossan or others that I can find

    Matt 16: 18-19 not historic (73- Who Is Jesus?: (1) Gos. Thom. 13; (2a) Mark
    8:27-30 = Matt 16:13-20 = Luke 9:18-21; (2b) Gos. Naz. 14; (2c) John 6:67-69.)

    1 Timothy- not written by St. Paul (See Crossan’s “In Search of Paul”, Harper, San
    Francisco, 2004, p.105)

  • It doesn’t matter much where Cardinals and Popes come from. It does matter whether they have heart and sense. Thank goodness Francis is picking a bunch of them.

  • There is a very good reason that so many Cardinals are from Europe. European Cardinals do a better job of administering the Papal States.

  • Try — really try — to get your head around this. The Catholic Church exists. It is historic reality. It is politically and sociologically relevant in today’s world. Whether or not you believe it was founded by Jesus or if Jesus was the Son of God is entirely beside the point.

    Either discuss the article at hand or don’t. But you need to understand how pathetic it is to post the same stuff over and over, regardless of topic, especially when what you write is devoid of any original thought.

    In all seriousness, I’m beginning to think you have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder or Asbergers. If so, please get the help you need. This will be the last of your comments that I respond to. I wish you peace.

  • Progressive tyranny? Just what are you being forced to do against your will?

    I suspect what you call “tyranny” is really freedom. It’s just freedom of which you don’t approve.

  • As bad as—nevermind the propaganda—Francis is on LGBTQ issues, it’s probably only going to get worse (w/ all those African and Asian electors. I wish that weren’t the case, but it almost certainly is).

ADVERTISEMENTs