Francis names 17 new cardinals, including Chicago's Cupich and Indianapolis' Tobin

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has again chosen to diversify representation in the most select body of Roman Catholic prelates, announcing Sunday that he will be creating 17 new cardinals from 11 different countries -- with eleven also coming from places never before included in the elite group.

Among those Francis has chosen for the role are also three U.S. bishops: Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin, and the newly appointed Vatican official Bishop Kevin Farrell.

Francis made the announcement of the new cardinals, expected in recent weeks, during his weekly Sunday address following the noon-time Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.

Cardinals, sometimes known as the "princes of the church" and for their red vestments, are usually senior Catholic prelates who serve either as archbishops in the world's largest dioceses or in the Vatican's central bureaucracy. Their principal role is to gather in secret conclave after the death or resignation of a pope to elect his successor.

Of the 17 cardinals Francis named Sunday, 13 are under the age of 80, at which point cardinals can no longer vote in conclave.

While historically cardinals have come from certain larger cities known for their Catholic populations or global importance, Francis has sought to diversify representation in the group -- choosing men from places long underrepresented or even not represented in the College of Cardinals.

Of Francis' 17 choices Sunday, four come from Europe, three from the U.S., three from Latin America, two from Africa, two from wider Asia, two from island nations, and one currently represents the church in the Middle East.

Eleven come from places that have never had a cardinal, including new cardinal electors: Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic; Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh; Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela; and, Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla de Baz, Mexico.

Two come from island nations, cardinal electors Bishop Maurice Piat of Mauritius' Port Louis and Archbishop John Ribat of Papua New Guinea's Port Moresby.

Francis also named as a cardinal the Vatican's apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, in Syria: Italian Archbishop Mario Zenari, saying in his remarks naming the cardinals that the country is "beloved and tormented."

The pontiff's naming of three new U.S. cardinals comes at a significant time for the American church, as the U.S. bishops will be meeting in Baltimore for their annual assembly Nov. 14-17. During the meeting they will be electing new officers, following the conclusion of the current officers' three year terms.

Francis appointed Cupich to Chicago in September 2014. The native Nebraskan had previously served as the bishop of Spokane, Washington.

Tobin is a Redemptorist who previously served as the secretary for the Vatican's religious congregation before being appointed to Indianapolis by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Indianapolis has also never been represented in the College of Cardinals.

Farrell, born in Ireland, had been serving as the bishop of Dallas until August, when Francis appointed him to lead the Vatican's new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

In naming the three Americans as cardinals, Francis skipped over two U.S. cities normally represented in the College of Cardinals: Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The pope will elevate the new cardinals at a formal ceremony at the Vatican, known as a consistory, on Nov. 19, the vigil of the conclusion of the Jubilee year for mercy on Nov. 20. Francis will then celebrate the concluding Mass of the Jubilee the next day with the new cardinals.

Announcing the names of the new cardinals in remarks after his Angelus prayer Sunday, the pontiff said the group "expresses the universality of the church, which proclaims and witnesses to the Gospel of the Good News of the Mercy of God in every corner of the earth."

The remaining new cardinals under the age of 80 are:

  • Madrid, Spain Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra;
  • Brasilia, Brazil Archbishop Sergio da Rocha, and;
  • Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium Archbishop Jozef De Kesel.

The four over the age of 80, all coming from places never before represented in the College, are:

  • Retired Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez;
  • Retired Novara, Italy Bishop Renato Corti;
  • Retired Mohale's Hoek, Lesotho Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai, and;
  • Fr. Ernest Simoni, a priest of the archdiocese of Shkodër-Pult in Albania.

November's consistory will be Francis' third, following his creation of 20 cardinals in February 2015 and 19 in February 2014. After the upcoming consistory, Francis will have named 44 of 120 cardinals able to vote in a papal conclave.

Francis spoke about his thought process in choosing new cardinals during a press conference on the papal flight back to Rome from Azerbaijan Oct. 2, saying his main concern was to have a balance of representation from around the world.

The pope said his criteria for choosing cardinals is having some "from everywhere" so "you see in the College of Cardinals the universality of the church," the pope said then.

"The list is long but there are only 13 spots," he said. "You have to think about having a balance."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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