Pope Francis appointed 20 new cardinals on Sunday, bringing many previously-unrepresented Catholic flocks into the group that will elect his successor.
The countries of Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde and all received their first-ever cardinalate appointments. A number of less-obscure but still unsung dioceses also made the cut, including bishops from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Panama and Thailand.
Only one representative of an English-speaking community is among the picks. So far, Francis has not appointed any cardinals from the United States; he appointed a British and a Canadian cardinal in 2014, and 2015’s crop included one from New Zealand. Among the Italians, traditionally a major part of the College of Cardinals, he gave the honor to the leaders of the peripheral archdioceses of Agrigento and Ancona-Osimo.
While in the past, the red cardinal’s hat has been a “given” for certain sees, Francis seems to have dispensed with the convention since becoming pope. With recent changes in leadership, the traditional heavyweight sees of Chicago, Madrid, Venice and Los Angeles are all led by men without the designation. (RELATED: Was The Cuba Deal A Papal Blessing?)
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Of the 20 cardinals-designate announced by Francis, 15 are younger than 80, and therefore eligible to participate in the next papal conclave. In another break with tradition, the pope has steered away from appointments of Vatican insiders; only one of this week’s new cardinals, veteran diplomat Dominique Mamberti, holds a top position in the Roman Curia.
The appointment of such far-flung cardinals is an encouraging affirmation of the Catholic Church’s diversity. But Vatican reporter John Allen speculated that the move was also a counter-intuitive attempt to consolidate church power in his inner circle, since the traditionally strong cardinalate belongs increasingly to bishops who “would need a tour guide just to find their way around the Apostolic Palace.”
Many have guessed, and Francis has suggested, that a woman cardinal may be in the future. “Cardinal” is a title, not a rank, and has no bearing on the ordination of women to clerical orders. But all of the new cardinals are active or retired bishops, and therefore all male.
The appointments will be formally made at a ceremony, called a consistory, on February 14.
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