Pope Francis could soon convene a consistory for the creation of new cardinals, taking the number of cardinals eligible to take part in a future conclave over the 120 limit established by Paul VI.

Rumors of a new consistory have multiplied in recent weeks because the new Vatican constitution Praedicate evangelium will come into force on June 5, the feast of Pentecost. Several new Vatican dicasteries will come into being that day and there is an expectation that their leaders will be named cardinals, though the constitution emphasizes that laypeople can lead certain departments.

Pope Francis has two options. He can wait until the end of the year, when the number of cardinal electors will drop to 110 and he will therefore have 10 slots available. Or he can convene a consistory on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. A consistory that day would, in all likelihood, take the number of cardinal electors over 120. But then their number is expected to drop in the following months.

The College of Cardinals currently has 117 cardinal electors. Of these, 12 were created by John Paul II, 38 by Benedict XVI, and 67 by Pope Francis. Cardinals created by Pope Francis account for 57% of the cardinal electors.

The last consistory creating new cardinals was on Nov. 28, 2020. Up to that point, Pope Francis had convened a consistory every year since 2014. But 2021 passed without the creation of new cardinals.

So far this year, four cardinal electors have already turned 80, and another six will do so before 2022 ends. The last will be Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga on Dec. 29.

Of these 10 cardinals, only four were created by Pope Francis. Therefore, if Pope Francis decided to name 10 new cardinal electors and return to the maximum limit of 120 electors established by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II, there would be 76 cardinals created by him in a possible conclave. That is to say, only four fewer than the 80 cardinals who represent the two-thirds of votes needed to elect a new pope.

Pope Francis has generally chosen candidates who are little known in the wider Church, with more pastoral than theological profiles, and with great attention to local churches that are considered marginalized, such as those in Tonga, Cape Verde, and the Central African Republic.

Any discussion of conclaves is, of course, speculative. It is not known who the cardinals will vote for. When they enter the Sistine Chapel, they are isolated, without the possibility of contact with the outside world. There, they ponder the choice of the next pontiff based more on pragmatic considerations than geopolitical ones.

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But studying the composition of the College of Cardinals is still worthwhile. If nothing else, it allows us to understand what direction Pope Francis wants to give to the Church and bishops around the world.

Reviewing Pope Francis’ seven consistories creating new cardinals, three fundamental criteria can be distinguished.

The first is unpredictability. The second is a desire to expand the representation of the Church to the most remote and least Christian regions. The third is that at least one new cardinal should represent a connection to the past.

On the first point, Pope Francis has shown that he can choose anyone as a cardinal. But there are some figures who are more likely to receive red hats due to their positions at the Vatican. They include Archbishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Governatorate of Vatican City State.

Then there are the less obvious possibilities. The number of Italian cardinals has consistently decreased under Pope Francis. Traditionally cardinalatial sees such as Naples, Palermo, Venice, Milan, and Turin are currently without a red hat. But the pope may opt for Archbishop Marco Tasca of Genoa, even though his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, is still among the cardinal electors.

He might also reward Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania, the president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE).

Among the surprises, there could also be another Italian: Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri, president emeritus of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. Sequeri is 77 years old and would therefore be a cardinal elector.

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With the red hat, would Pope Francis somehow wish to bless the new direction of the institute named after the Polish pope but profoundly reshaped in recent years?

It is a hypothesis, as is a red hat for Archbishop Piero Marini, Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations from 1987 to 2007 and, until this year, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.

Both Sequeri and Marini would arguably fit into the category of cardinals who represent a connection with the past. One would underline the new theological course under Pope Francis and the other the new liturgical line expressed most recently through the motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

A red hat for Marini, who was known for his progressive liturgical ideas during the pontificate of John Paul II, would say more than a thousand words about the direction that Pope Francis wants to give to the Church.

France could also gain a red hat. Apart from Cardinal Dominique Mamberti, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Pope Francis has not placed a red hat on a French head since his election in 2013. With former Paris archbishop Cardinal André Vingt-Trois turning 80 on Nov. 7, and losing his right to vote in a conclave, there is a possible opening.

Spain currently has four cardinals: the archbishops of Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, ​​and Valladolid. Archbishop Francisco Cherro Chaves of Toledo, the Primate of Spain, is not a cardinal. But insiders think that is unlikely to change.

Looking at Europe, the absence of red hats in influential archdioceses such as Kraków, Poland, and Armagh, Northern Ireland, is striking.

Neither the United States nor Canada seems a likely destination for a new red hat. The U.S. already has six resident cardinal electors: Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. There are three others in Rome: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, and Cardinal James Harvey.

Canada, meanwhile, has two residential archbishops — Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto and Cardinal Gérald Lacroix of Quebec — and two curial cardinals, Cardinal Michael Czerny and Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

In Latin America, the pope is thought to be able to give the red hat to Archbishop Carlos Mattasoglio of Lima, Peru, and Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte, the president of Brazil’s bishops’ conference.

Africa is currently under-represented in the College of Cardinals (as well as among the heads of Vatican dicasteries) and three African cardinals turned 80 in 2021. Pope Francis could look to South Sudan, where he intends to visit in July. A possible candidate would be Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba.

But the pope might also gravitate toward Archbishop Benjamin Ndiaye of Dakar, Senegal, or Archbishop Siegfried Mandla Jwara of Durban, South Africa.

Australia does not currently have a cardinal elector, and the two most prominent names would be Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney and Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne. But the possibility of a red hat for Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane should not be underestimated. Coleridge was until recently the president of the Australian bishops’ conference and was seemingly highly esteemed by Pope Francis during the 2015 family synod.

Oceania could also be rewarded with a cardinal, perhaps from Papua New Guinea, where the pope has indicated that he wants to travel.

Asia now has 15 cardinal electors and is probably unlikely to gain many more at a new consistory.

Yet geographical considerations could become irrelevant if Pope Francis decided to expand the number of cardinal electors. There is a precedent: With the consistory of Nov. 28, 2020, he exceeded the threshold of 120, reaching 128 cardinal electors.

When choosing new cardinals, the pope has tended to opt for candidates whom he trusts. But he has also sent signals about the direction of his governance. It is notable that since the beginning of his pontificate, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops has been a cardinal (first Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and now Cardinal Mario Grech.) This is a sign of how important the pope considers the Synod of Bishops to be.

When Czerny received the red hat, he was under-secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and responsible for Vatican policy on migrants and refugees. The gesture was a clear indication of the pope’s strong interest in the themes promoted by the dicastery.

And when it comes to Pope Francis’ choices, no signal should be underestimated.