Vatican City, May 21, 2018 / 11:32 am
Pope Francis' fifth consistory marks an important shift within the College of Cardinals: it is the first time in the five years of this pontificate that in a possible future conclave the number of cardinals created by Pope Francis will surpass the number of cardinals created by his predecessors.
As of April, the College of Cardinals is composed this way: there are 48 voting cardinals created by Pope Francis, 48 by Benedict XVI and 19 created by John Paul II, for a total of 115 voting cardinals.
After the June 29 consistory, the number of cardinals created by Pope Francis will be 59, and the total number of voting cardinals will be 125.
Only cardinals younger than 80 have the right to vote in a conclave. On June 8, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation of the Cause of Saints, will turn 80, and so at the moment of the consistory there will there will be 47 voting cardinals created by Benedict XVI.
That means that Pope Francis has made the decision to surpass the limit of 120 voting cardinals set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II. He did so also at the last consistory, in June 28, 2017, when Pope Francis created 5 new cardinals, all of them below the age of 80, that raised the total number of voting cardinals to 121.
Some other figures are revealing.
Since the very first consistory, Pope Francis wanted to show a universal Church by tapping for a "red hat" bishops or archbishops from countries that had never before been represented by a cardinal.
This consistory is slightly different, as Pope Francis picked countries that have been already had cardinals. Japan, Pakistan, Madagascar, and Iraq are back in the sacred college, after a long absence. With their presence there are now 87 countries represented in the College of Cardinals.
Europe is now the most represented continent, and will still be: after the next consistory, there will be 53 European voting cardinals. Latin America has a new representative in the sacred college, so there will be 13 Latin American voting cardinals; Africa will climb to 16 cardinals and Asia to 17 cardinals. North America will have 17 cardinals and Central America 5, while Oceania will keep 4 red birettas.
The roster of the pope's new cardinals do not include any bishops from North America. It is particularly surprising that Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles will not be created a cardinal, given that his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, has already turned 82.
Even if it is Pope Francis' unwritten rule to avoid creating cardinals in diocese that already have an elector, Los Angeles does not fit the bill.
The rationale could be that of representativeness: with 10 voting cardinals, the United States is second only to Italy as the most represented country in the College of Cardinals. This consideration might have weighed in Pope Francis' decision.
Another point is also noteworthy: Pope Francis rarely makes cardinals in dioceses generally considered cardinalatial posts. So, Japan will be represented, but the cardinal will not be the Archbishop of Tokyo, as usual, but instead Archbishop Thomas Aquinas Manyo of Osaka. Madagascar is not represented by the Archdiocese of Antananarivo, its capital city, but by Archbishop Desiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina.
The appointment of the fourth cardinal from Madagascar – the first was Jérôme Louis Rakotomalala, created by Paul VI in 1969, and the most recent was Armand Razafindratandra, who died in 2010 – shows a particular concern for the Church in Madagascar, and might also pave the way to a Pope Francis' visit to the African country.
There are clues supporting that possibility.
Bishop Gilbert Aubry, Bishop of Reunion and president of the Indian Ocean Bishops' Conference, which met Pope Francis for their ad limina visit Apr. 9, said May 10 in an interview with Antenne Reunion that a papal visit in Madagascar might be scheduled for 2019. It would be the second visit of a Pope to Madagascar, and would mark the 30th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II's 1989 visit.
Giving a wider glance at the list, it is easy to see many of Pope Francis' main concerns. His focus on the Middle East is borne out in the fact that Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of the Chaldeans is the first of the list, even before Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and one of the three cardinals from the Roman Curia among the new red hats.
The appointment of Patriarch Sako as a cardinal shows the Pope's attention to Iraq, and to suffering Churches - the Pope also appointed as a cardinal Syria's nuncio, Mario Zenari, in the 2016 consistory.
Patriarch Sako recently said that he invited the pope to visit Iraq, during a visit with Francis in February. A papal visit to Iraq has been studied for years, and is considered likely to happen, once security issues can be solved.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, will also get the red hat: Pope Francis learned of the difficult situation of Pakistan speaking with Pakistani bishops in their ad limina visit March 15, and the red birretta likely aims to give more attention to a small Catholic community who is also targeted by the blasphemy laws.
The Roman Curia got three red hats: beyond the appointment of Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope appointed as cardinals Archbishops Giovanni Angelo Becciu and Konrad Krajewski.
This latter is the Papal Almoner, and he will apparently keep his post. It seems the pope wants to give to the office of the Papal Almoner the highest rank, emphasizing the work with poor. During recent years, the Papal Almoner has been promoter of many initiatives for poor, including a laundromat ("The Pope Francis laundry") and a dormitory for the homeless.
The red hat given to Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, deputy to the Secretariat of State, might anticipate Archbishop Becciu's appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, to replace Cardinal Amato, who will soon retire.
This would means, as a side effect, that there could be a further reshuffle within the Secretariat of State, with a new deputy, after the pope appointed Msgr. Joseph Murphy as new head of protocol March 22.
Archbishop Becciu is also one of the three new Italian cardinals.