Updated: Feb 19, 2020
With today’s announcement of 20 new cardinals, Pope Francis has moved decisively toward making the College of Cardinals a truly global institution.
The cardinals come from 14 countries on five continents, including Cape Verde, Myanmar, Panama, New Zealand and even the Kingdom of Tonga, a Pacific archipelago that is home to a mere 15,000 Catholics.
They will receive their red hats at a consistory in Rome in mid-February. The list of appointees included no one from the United States or Canada. Pope Francis, in fact, has yet to appoint a cardinal from the United States, which today has 18 cardinals, a relatively high number.
There are several things to note in the pope’s selections:
— By choosing prelates from eight dioceses that have never had a cardinal, Francis is clearly shaking up the geographical mix of a group known as the church’s “senate.” In effect, the pope is removing the expectation of red hats that have attached to many established major dioceses for centuries. This new policy – enunciated explicitly today by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi – sets in motion further globalization for the future: expect fewer Europeans, and more cardinals from the Catholic “periphery.”
— Of the 15 new cardinals who are under age 80, and therefore able to vote in a conclave, the pope chose two Italians. That means Italy would continue to have great influence in a potential papal election, with more than one-fifth the number of voting cardinals. But as he did last year, the pope selected Italians from smaller dioceses, passing over traditional cardinalate sees like Venice and Turin. Once again, the effect is to remove the customary expectation of a red hat.
— Only one new cardinal comes from the ranks of the Roman Curia: French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who recently succeeded Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Vatican’s top tribunal. The number of Vatican officials among voting-age cardinals has dropped under Pope Francis. After February, they will make up about 27 percent of the total, compared to about 35 percent in the conclave that elected Pope Francis.
— The pope demonstrated that the limit of 120 voting-age cardinals is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. After the next consistory, the church could have 125 cardinals under age 80. Pope Francis has chosen, like his predecessors, to stay close to the 120 ceiling. But there’s no reason why, in the future, he could not simply decide that the fastest way to increase geographic diversity in the College of Cardinals is to increase the number of its members.