What's the thought behind Pope Francis' choices for cardinals?

Consistory of cardinals in St Peters Basilica on Nov 4 2012 Credit Lewis Ashton Glancy CNA CNA 2 12 15 Cardinals gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for a consistory, Nov. 4, 2012. | Lewis Ashton Glancy/CNA.

With the Consistory of Cardinals in November, Pope Francis will shape the College of Cardinals to give the widest representation to the countries of the world and to minimize the possibility of encouraging any sort of careerism.

Why can we say this?

The first of these criteria was publicly acknowledged by the Pope during the press conference on his flight returning from Azerbaijan Oct. 2.

There, the Pope explained that criteria of consistory include choosing cardinals "from all over the world" because "the Church is everywhere."

He added: "There is a long list, but we have 13 slots. And a balance will be needed. I do like that the College of Cardinals shows the universality of the Church: not only the so-called European center, but every part."

This standard was followed in the latest picks for the "red hat."

The Pope appointed 17 new cardinals. Thirteen of them are under the age of 80 and eligibleto vote in a conclave.

Out of the 13 voting cardinals, three come from the United States: Bishop Kevin Farrell, prefect of the to-be-established Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis; and Archbishop Blaise Cupich of Chicago.

These three are the first U.S. cardinals Pope Francis has created in his papacy. With them, the U.S. could be represented by 10 cardinals in a future conclave.

Three cardinals out of 13 come from Europe: Archbishop Jozef de Kesel of Brussels; Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid; and Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Italian-born apostolic nuncio to Syria.

Africa will be represented by two new cardinals: Archbishop Dieduonné Nzapalainga of Bangui in the Central African Republic; and Archbishop Maurice Piat, of Port Louis, Mauritius, a tiny island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Another three cardinals come from the Latin America: Archbishop Sergio da Rocha of Brasilia, Brazil; Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico; and Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo of Mérida, Venezuela.

Oceania is represented by Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, New Guinea, while Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh is the only Asian cardinal.

How does this change the composition of the College of Cardinals?

At the end of 2016, cardinals eligible to vote in a Conclave will number 120, the maximum limit set by Paul VI to elect a Pope. Out of these 120 cardinals, 44 were created by Pope Francis, 56 by Benedict XVI, and 20 by St. John Paul II.

In three consistories, Pope Francis was thus able to strongly shape the College of Cardinals according to his wish of a more universal Church from the peripheries.

A future conclave could draw 54 cardinals from Europe and 34 from the Americas, with 17 from North America, four from Central America, and 14 from South America. Another 14 cardinals could come from Asia, 15 from Africa and four from Oceania.

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Pope Francis showed great attention to Oceania, whose membership increased by three new cardinals under Pope Francis. The Pope has named a cardinal from Oceania for each consistory of his pontificate.

Italy is still the most represented country, with 25 cardinals. However, the European weight in a future conclave is diminished: in 2005, there were 57 European cardinals, in 2013 there were 59, and now there are only 54.

For the first time ever, Bangladesh, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea are represented by a cardinal.

These numbers show Pope Francis' interest in emphasizing the role of peripheries.

When a list of cardinals is released, the order of Cardinals is also noteworthy.

For example, when Pope Francis announced the Feb. 22, 2014 Consistory, the first name on the list was Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, but the second name on the list was Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and not that of Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was a signal that Pope Francis wanted to emphasize synodality rather than a curial post. This major focus on synodality rather than on a doctrinal office was then proved by the convocation of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the 2015 Synod on the same topic.

The list of this latest consistory is opened by Archbishop Mario Zenari, nuncio to Syria, and the second in the list is Archbishop Nzapalainga of Bangui, while the Archbishop of Madrid – an important seat indeed – is only third in the list.

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Because of this order, we can surmise that Pope Francis wants the focus of this consistory on the populations who suffer the outcomes of a long term war. Nuncio Zenari, considers himself a veteran of wars. He was papal nuncio in Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka while both of these countries were stricken by conflicts. He will stay as nuncio to the "beloved and martyred Syria," as Pope Francis said when he announced the list.

As a cardinal, the nuncio may even be characterized as a sort of special envoy from Pope Francis. That was the role of Cardinal Fernando Filoni when the Pope sent him to Iraq in 2014 after it had been shocked by Islamic State group violence.

Turning to the appointment of Archbishop Nzapalainga, it is noteworthy to remember that Pope Francis opened the first Holy Door of the Year of Mercy in Bangui in November 2015. The Archbishop of Bangui is also well known for his role in the country's peace talks.

Number six on the list of new cardinals – after Archbishops Osoro Sierra, da Rocha and Cupich – is Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

To understand more deeply how Pope Francis is changing the shape of the College of Cardinals, another data point should be noted.

In three consistories, Pope Francis created 44 new red hats, and only five of them went to curial positions: the 2014 consistory gave three red hats to the curia, the 2015 consistory gave just one. This upcoming consistory will see the elevation of Bishop Kevin Farrell, who has just taken the post of Prefect of the Dicastery Laity, Family and Life.

This way, Pope Francis has broken the tradition that a bishop was going to get a red hat once he reached a particular post. Another move to break careerism was the choice to avoid considering some dioceses as automatic cardinal seats, a traditional view. This is the reason why the Archdioceses of Turin, Bologna and Palermo in Italy, traditionally led by a cardinal, are still without a red hat, as well as the Patriarchate of Venice.

Even the U.S. archdioceses of Philadelphia and Los Angeles are not led by a cardinal, as they once were.

This way, Pope Francis wants to show that there are no "rank A" and "rank B" dioceses, and that every bishop – no matter where he comes from or how important and large the diocese he administers – can become a cardinal.

Pope Francis will also elevate four bishops who have already turned 80, but even in this case the red hat is not simply an honorific sign. With Archbishops Anthony Soter Fernandez, emeritus of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Sebastian Koto Khoarai, emeritus of Mohale's Hoek in Lesotho, Pope Francis has once more emphasized his focus on the Church of the peripheries.

With Archbishop Renato Corti, emeritus of Novara, the Pope awarded a passionate preacher who preached St. John Paul II's final Lenten Spiritual Exercises for the curia in 2005. Pope Francis called on him to write the Good Friday Meditation at Rome's Coliseum this year.

Finally, the Pope will elevate Father Ernest Simoni, the Albanian priest who moved the Pope to tears for his testimony about the persecution he endured under Albania's atheistic regime. The persecuted and peripheral Church of Albania, the first European Church Pope Francis visited during his pontificate, is thus in the spotlight again.

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