College of Cardinals Is More International

Fewer Than Half of Electors Are From Europe

Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2001 (
The “internationalization” of the College of Cardinals, promoted by Popes especially in the second half of the 20th century, has found its clearest expression in the newest consistory announced by John Paul II.

If a conclave were held now, 54 countries would be represented. Fewer than half of the elector cardinals (those less than 80 years old) are of European origin. Of the 128 cardinals who could vote for a new pope, 60 are from Europe, 12 from Africa, four from Oceania, 13 from Asia, and 39 from America.

Just as the number of Catholics has grown relentlessly in the New World — almost half the world´s Catholics reside in that continent — so has the number of cardinals baptized in those lands.

The American country with the greatest number of cardinals is the United States, which has 11 elector cardinals. In addition, North America has two elector cardinals in Canada. Brazil is the second country, with seven elector cardinals, followed by Colombia (three elector cardinals), Mexico (three), Argentina (two) and Chile (two).

With the addition of the 10 Latin American elector cardinals named Sunday by John Paul II, practically the entire center and south of the “continent of hope” has a representative in a future conclave.

Although the number of Italians in the College of Cardinals has decreased significantly over the last decades, seven cardinals named Sunday (Father Roberto Tucci will not be an elector, since he will soon be 80) will increase the present number of elector cardinals of that country to 24.

Prior to Pius XII, Italian cardinals constituted more than half of the College (at the time they were all electors). With Paul VI, this percentage decreased to a third.

In today´s edition of the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, historian Giorgio Rumi explained why he thinks the Pope named so many cardinals from Latin America.

“I think it is a sign of highest attention to a wide Latin Catholic area, which at present is democratic, with a Church that at times is progressive, but always faithful,” wrote the professor of history who often writes articles in L´Osservatore Romano. “It is a recognition of the past and present history of this world shaped like a pyramid that has its apex in Spain and Portugal, and its base down there; but also up there, as Spanish is the second language of the United States.”

Could there be, then, a Pope from the American continent?

Rumi answers the journalist´s provocative question: “These are electoral suppositions and calculations that are amusing for those outside. In reality, what is most beautiful about the Church is, undoubtedly, her variety in choosing, which is often of an unforeseeable character.”

Rumi recalled cases like that of John XXIII who was elected when he was older than 76 and who changed the history of the Church decisively with the Second Vatican Council, or John Paul II. “Who would have predicted it?” he asked, referring to the latter´s election.

Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation