December 14, 2012


The College of Cardinals

When Pope Benedict XVI created six new cardinals from four continents on Nov. 24, he did more than highlight the universality of the Catholic Church. For starters, two of the new cardinals are in their 50s, which means that they might eventually help elect several popes.

Those men, both from Asia, are Cardinal Baselio Cleemis Thottunkal, 53, who is head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India, and Cardinal Luis Tagle, 55, archbishop of Manila in the Philippines.

Cardinal Thottunkal is one of two new cardinals from Eastern Catholic Churches, the other being Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72, from Lebanon.

Both the Syro-Malankara and the Maronite Churches are Antiochian Churches that trace themselves back to the Church in Antioch, where Christ’s disciples were first called Christians. (See Acts 11:26.) Sts. Paul and Barnabas were sent on their missionary journeys from Antioch, and St. Peter was bishop of Antioch before he went to Rome.

Most of the Antiochian churches, though, became Orthodox instead of Catholic, and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is fairly recent. It dates back only to 1930 when two bishops, a priest, a deacon and a layman of the Malankara Orthodox Church were received into full communion with Rome. Today, there are more than 420,000 members. Thottunkal is the first cardinal from that Church.

By contrast, the Maronite Church was founded by followers of St. Maron in the fourth century. It has always been in communion with Rome.

In making Archbishop Tagle of the Philippines a cardinal, Pope Benedict not only named a relatively young man, he also paid at least tacit recognition of the role that the new social media have in the Church.

Cardinal Tagle is an extremely popular Churchman in the Philippines, and he spreads the Gospel through Facebook. More than 100,000 people “like” him on Facebook.

Cardinal Tagle is also known to be emotional. In fact, he burst into tears as he knelt before Pope Benedict to receive the symbols of his office, and the pope had to comfort him.

The other three new cardinals are Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, 68; Colombian Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez, 70; and U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey, 63, former prefect of the papal household. It is notable that only Cardinals Rai and Gomez are 70 or above.

The Nov. 24 consistory was the second this year, and it is quite likely that there will be another in 2013 because many cardinals will soon exceed the age of 80 when they can no longer participate in a conclave to elect a pope.

Since Blessed John Paul II tended to appoint older men as cardinals, most of the cardinals currently eligible to elect a pope have been appointed by Pope Benedict.

For those who keep track of such things, the count is 53 named by Pope John Paul and 67 appointed by Pope Benedict. At least 15 cardinals—barring deaths—will reach 80 within the next 15 months.

Pope Paul VI set the limit of cardinals eligible to vote for a new pope at 120, where it is today. If there are 120 cardinals present at a conclave, 80 votes, or two-thirds, are required for the election of a pope.

Even though the consistory showed the universality of the Church, the College of Cardinals doesn’t exactly reflect the number of Catholics in various parts of the world. Cardinals from Europe are still slightly more than 51 percent of the electors even though fewer than 24 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Europe.

The United States has 21 cardinals, but only 11 under the age of 80. Brazil, the country with the largest number of Catholics, has five. Cardinal Tagle is the only cardinal from the heavily Catholic Philippines.

The current breakdown of the papal electors is this—Europe (19 countries), 62; North America (three countries), 18; Latin America (11 countries), 17; Asia (seven countries), 11; Africa (10 countries), 11; and Oceania (one country), 1.

Of the 11 U.S. cardinals under 80, five are active shepherds of archdioceses—New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago and Galveston-Houston—three serve in the Roman Curia—Cardinals Harvey, Raymond Burke and Edwin O’Brien—and three are retired—Cardinals William Levada, Roger Mahony and Justin Rigali.

—John F. Fink

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