If there’s one thing even the most religiously illiterate person tends to get about the Catholic church, it’s the difference between a cardinal and everybody else.
Cardinals matter: they set a leadership tone, and, of course, they elect the next pope.
The news this week that Benedict XVI has named 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under 80 and hence eligible to vote in a conclave, merits a few reflections, writes John Allen.
First, it would not seem that Benedict XVI has stacked the deck in any ideological sense. While there are no real liberals in this crop, neither is the consistory stuffed with arch-conservatives.
In general, there’s a rough balance between traditionalists and pragmatists. If Benedict’s aim had been to fill the College of Cardinals with the most conservative prelates available, he could have elevated Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Brussels, for example.
In truth, Benedict seems determined to defer to tradition at almost every turn, rather than placing his own personal stamp on the college. He sticks close to the ceiling of 120 voting-age cardinals established by Pope Paul VI (while John Paul II sometimes ignored it); he won’t break with custom by naming a new cardinal before his predecessor turns 80; and he insists on giving the red hat to all those Vatican officials who have traditionally held it.
Second, Benedict is continuing what some analysts have described as the “re-Italianization” of the church’s senior government, with ten of the 24 new cardinals, and eight of the 20 electors, being Italians.
Some wags in the Vatican press corps have dubbed the Nov. 20 consistory the “revenge of the Italians” because it brings the Italian share of the electors up from 17 percent to 20 - or one-fifth of the total.
Third, and related to the point above, ten of the 20 new cardinal-electors are Vatican officials, which will bring the total of Vatican officials among voting-age cardinals to 40 - representing one-third of the total electorate for the next pope.