By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Responding to accounts in the National Catholic Reporter and elsewhere suggesting that the College of Cardinals is top-heavy with Europeans and North Americans, the Vatican’s Secretary of State said today that the make-up of the college is actually broadly proportionate to the distribution of priests and bishops in the world.
Moreover, Italian Cardinal Taricisio Bertone said, the College of Cardinals “is not, and cannot be, a mere assembly in which the various local churches are represented using democratic methods.”
Bertone’s comments came in an interview with L’Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference. Italian journalist Gianni Cardinale asked Bertone to respond to articles in NCR and the Italian news agency ANSA suggesting that Latin America, Africa and Asia are under-represented among the cardinals.
That Oct. 19 NCR piece observed that, “Two-thirds of the cardinals come from the global North, while two-thirds of the Catholic people live in the South.”
In response, Bertone made two points.
“The pope is free in a sovereign sense in the choice of cardinals,” Bertone said. “If one considers only in a mathematical sense the relationship between the faithful and the cardinals, it could perhaps seem unequal; but if one looks more carefully at the data on the distribution of priests and bishops in the world, the proportions appear more balanced.”
“In any event, the fact remains that the College of Cardinals is not, and cannot be, a mere assembly in which the various local churches are represented using democratic methods. It is entirely different, as popes have repeatedly explained in the speeches and homilies given during the consistories.”
In an accompanying piece, Cardinale observes that the two countries with the largest number of cardinals under the age of 80 and thus able to vote for the next pope, Italy (21) and the United States (13), are also those with the largest numbers of bishops and priests. Italy has more than 51,000 priests and over 500 bishops, while the United States has over 45,000 priests and more than 430 bishops.
The suggestion is that Benedict XVI’s recent choices of new members for the College of Cardinals may not be in line with the total number of Catholics in various regions of the world, but it does more accurately reflect the distribution of clergy.
Cardinale writes that a forthcoming issue of 30 Giorni, a widely read Italian Catholic publication, will contain a more detailed statistical breakdown.
Members of the College of Cardinals will gather on Friday for a “business meeting” with Pope Benedict XVI, the second such gathering of Benedict’s papacy. The first came on March 23, 2006, to discuss several issues, including the idea of a document widening permission for celebration of the old Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). That document eventually appeared in July 2007.
Tomorrow, the cardinals are to discuss ecumenism in the morning, beginning with a presentation by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenical officer. The afternoon is devoted to free discussion for whatever issues the cardinals themselves wish to raise.