really all about?
By broadening its geographical, ethnic and theological base, the Pope has made the
College of Cardinals more representative and more forceful, argues June Hager
residing over the largest consistory in history, the Pope on February 21, 2001, created 44 new cardinals to lead the Church into the third millennium.
Increasing the number of elector cardinals to 135, the Holy Father went way beyond the limit of 120 set by his predecessor Paul VI (and confirmed by himself in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis).
Facile reasons were immediately given in the Italian and international press for the phenomenon. The Pope "feels his time is ninning out" and wishes to "mould the institution that will choose his successor." By naming cardinals who share his traditionalist views, he "wants to ensure that the next head of the Roman Catholic Church will be a theological and moral conservative in his own image." And it is true, John Paul II has made more cardinals than any other Pope —166; all but 10 of the 135 of the electors who will vote in the next conclave are his appointees (92.5%).
On the other hand, a surprising characteristic of the latest consistory, and as a result, of the College of Cardinals, is its inclusion of a wide spectrum of theological, social and organisational opinions. Cardinal Walter Kasper, until now Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, has spoken out against some recent Vatican policies on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. His elevation poises him to take over the Council from the Council's soon-to-retire President Cardinal Edward Cassidy.
Karl Lehmann, who heads the German Bishops' Conference, had been passed by several consistories, ostensibly for resisting Vatican directives on abortion counselling and sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics. He was among the 44 prelates who received the cardinal's biretta on February 21, and will be a powerful "progressive" voice in the College of Cardinals and in any future conclave.
As new cardinals, both the Archbishops of Westminster, Murphy-O'Connor, and of Durban, South Africa, have been described as liberal in their views and activities. On the other hand, the Pope balanced his elevation of Lehmann with that of a more conservative German prelate, the Archbishop of Paderbom, Johannes Joachim Degenhardt. And the naming of the "loyalist" Dublin Archbishop Desmond Connell, (although by tradition the cardinal's hat should have passed to the more outspoken Archbishop of Armagh) was commented upon by one commentator as a counterpoint to Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor.
Perhaps a more accurate explanation for John Paul II's stretching of the electoral limit from 120 to 135 is to be found in his own words. In announcing his appointments in mid-January, the Pope emphasised that his choices would bring greater geographical and ethnic diversity ("universality") to the College of Cardinals. The new cardinals come from 27 different countries and five continents: 2 from India, 2 from Africa, 11 from Latin America. The current members of the College of Cardinals represent all the continents and come from 61 countries. Europe has 96 (65 electors), North America 18 (13 electors), Latin America 33 (27 electors), Africa 16 (13 electors), (Asia 17 (13 electors), and Oceania 4 (all electors).
In his consistory homily the Holy Father told the new cardinals: "You come from 27 countries and four continents and speak different languages. Is not this perhaps a sign of the Church's capacity, now that it has spread to every corner of the planet, to understand peoples with different tradtions and languages, in order to bring them the Christ's announcement?" Perhaps the induction of the largest group of cardinals ever named was this Pope's response to the geographical exigencies of "spiritual globalisation."
The latest elevations put the proportion of Europeans in the College of Cardinals below 50% for the first time in history (47% of the total membership). Forty-one percent of voting cardinals now come from the third world. In fact, although Europe still is predominant with 65 elector cardinals, and as a single country Italy has the largest number of cardinals (24), the South American "bloc" has taken on new prominence with its total of 27 electors. As a result, many seasoned Vatican watchers affirm the possibility of a non-Italian Pope the next time round— with many betting on a Latin American.
At the February 21 consistory, the loudest applause came for the numerous new cardinals from Latin America. "This is a sign of the vitality of our Church," a parishioner from Tegucigalpa (Honduras) commented, "a sign that the centre of Catholicism is moving from Europe to the Americas." Upon closer inspection of the new South American cardinals, however, it is clear that almost all their different archdioceses (Bogota, Lima, Sao Paolo, etc.) were overdue for elevation to the cardinal's rank.
It is well known that reunion with the Orthodox is a priority dear to the present Pope. His recent elevations enhance the ecumenical leanings of the College of Cardinals. For instance, Connac Murphy-O'Connor has been co-chairman of the AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC): Kasper, Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity, was involved in the LutheranCatholic Agreement on Justification by Faith, as was Karl Lehmann; and the Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier has always been in the front lines of ecumenical dialogue in South Africa.
The Pope's unexpected appointment of new cardinal His Beatitude. Ignace Daoud, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, to the post of Prefect of the Congregation fort' the Oriental Churches, finally gives that Church ministry an Oriental rather than Latin-rite leader. Cardinal Stephanos II Ghattas, as Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, is head of another very old Oriental Christian Church, as is Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of the Syro-Malabarese Church in India.
Three Greek-rite cardinals declined the biretta in deference to their own Oriental traditions. This was the first time such an exception had been made, and it was a described in the press as a "significant gesture by a Pope for whom rapprochement with Eastern Christianity is a top priority." Two cardinals (Marian Jaworski, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Ukraine and Janis Pujats of Riga, Latvia) had been secretly named in 1998 and kept -in pectore" (in the breast) until this year because of tensions with the Orthodox in their own countries.
These, as well as the newly-elected head of the Greek-rite Ukrainian Church (Lubomyr Husar) and the Vietnamese President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan) had all suffered persecution under Communism in their own countries.
Of course, most speculation concerning this consistory centres on the makeup of the next conclave and the election of a future Pope. It seems, however, that by increasing the numbers in the College of Cardinals, broadening the geographical and ethnic base, and diversifying the theological positions held by its members, John Paul 1.1 wishes to make the "Senate of the Roman Catholic Church" a more representative and forceful organism, in itself and in its advice to the Pope.
And in fact, on February 26 the Italian papers reported that John Paul II has already summoned his new and old cardinal advisors back at the end of May, for a plenary meeting at the Vatican.
Apparently the main items on the agenda will be a re-examination of the Petrine ministry and greater collegiality in the running of the Catholic Church, as the Pope had already suggested in his post-Jubilee Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Intiente.
This is a pope whose ability to surprise us all should never be forgotten.
June Hager is managing editor of Inside the Vaticdn