Pope continues quest for leaner, more European church


AT THE TRADITIONAL visite di calore(courtesy visit) in the Apostolic Palace and the Paul VI hall on Saturday afternoon, some new cardinals seemed more equal than others.

In a long-standing ritual worthy of a renaissance prince’s court, the newly “created” cardinals stood around, accepting the homage and good wishes of friends and faithful alike. The biggest crowd gathered around Cardinal Tim Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. Not only is Cardinal Dolan a “hail fellow, well met” American who seems open to dialogue, he is also one of the few new cardinals appointed last Saturday likely to have registered on the radar of international public opinion.

The point about the 22 new cardinals, 18 of whom are under 80 years of age and therefore entitled to vote in any future conclave, is that the majority of them (10) are curia officials little known to those not intimately familiar with church matters.

Pope Benedict’s fourth consistory (he has now appointed 63 of the current 125 elector cardinals) reflects the cautious, conservative mindset of a pope who has long believed in a smaller, leaner, more European church.

Sixteen of the new cardinals are European, seven of whom are Italian, three are North American, while only one is South American, one Indian and one Chinese. Not a single appointment came from Africa. Only seven of those appointed on Saturday are sitting bishops – Cardinal Bettori of Florence, Cardinal Collins of Toronto, Cardinal Dolan of New York, Cardinal Duka of Prague, Cardinal Eik of Utrecht, Cardinal Hon of Hong Kong and Cardinal Woelki of Berlin.

This leads many Vatican observers to conclude that the next conclave may be dominated by a cabal of curia department heads and Italian cardinals (30 of the 125 electors are Italians). Such a cabal would be expected to make exactly the sort of “safe hands” appointment that saw Pope Benedict elected in 2005.

Some of the appointments have huge pastoral significance – Cardinal Hon earns his red hat at a moment of great tension between the Catholic Church and the People’s Republic of China. Cardinal Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar church in India and someone who was elected to that post by the Syro-Malabar synod, brings to the job a concern for inter-rite and interfaith harmony in the Indian subcontinent.

In his homily at the consistory in St Peter’s on Saturday morning, Pope Benedict called on the faithful to pray for him that he might continue to “guide the holy church with a firm and humble hand”. Firm, humble and European, no?