In numbers: the Consistory continues to broaden the variety within the College of Cardinals


By Carol Glatz, Catholic Press Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will lead a number of major events at the end of August, starting with the creation of 20 new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Inducting those appointed to the College of Cardinals at an ordinary public consistory on August 27, the pope will give each new cardinal: a scarlet biretta – the “red hat” – the color of which signifies a cardinal’s willingness to pay his blood for faith; a gold ring, a sign of their special link with the Church of Rome; and a scroll testifying to his new office and containing the name of his titular church in Rome.

On August 28, the pope will leave Rome for L’Aquila, 90 km east of the capital, where he is due to open a seven-century-old celebration of forgiveness and meet the families of those who died in an earthquake of land in 2009. .

Back in Rome, the pope will then hold an important closed-door assembly with the College of Cardinals on August 29 and 30.

All the cardinals of the world were invited to attend the consultative session to reflect on the apostolic constitution “Praedicate evangelium” (Preaching the Gospel) on the reform of the Roman Curia – a project which has been an important axis of this pontificate.

The pope will then end the day on August 30 with a mass with all the new cardinals and the College of Cardinals in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The Pope summoning the Cardinals of the world to Rome provides a rare chance for the College of Cardinals to get to know each other and serve as an advisory body to the Pope.

This tradition of using the college in an advisory capacity was common practice in the early centuries of the Church, when cardinals constituted the “senate” of the Church and, in part because they once all lived in Rome, were often consulted by the pope.

Today, cardinals, who now come from all over the world, can still significantly influence Church policy through their membership in Vatican dicasteries and other curial agencies. The pope appoints them to serve as senior members of these offices that help manage the life of the universal church. While some live and work in Rome, the majority serve in their home country or in a designated diocese, nunciature or prefecture apostolic and generally pass through Rome several times a year for meetings, conferences and individual audiences with the pontiff.

However, the cardinals’ most visible role is in their solemn and important task of entering a conclave to elect a new pope, a responsibility currently reserved for cardinals under the age of 80.

With 20 new members inducted into the College of Cardinals on August 27, Pope Francis will bring the number of cardinal electors to 132, and the college as a whole will have 226 members.

Some of the important characteristics of the quorum after the August 27 consistory can be seen in numbers:

  • The college is old. The average age of cardinals today is 78 and the average age of cardinal electors is 72. Although nine voters are under 60 and one is 48, nearly three-quarters of voters are 70 and over. Nearly 41% of the entire college is over 80 years old.
  • The college is international. Today, there are over 90 countries represented across the college and 71 countries among voters. This is a notable increase from 2005, when the 117 eligible cardinal electors came from 53 countries.
  • Europe remains the regional locomotive, even if the regional balance is slowly changing. At the 2005 conclave, nearly 50% of voters were European. After the consistory of August 27, 52 of the voters – a little less than 40% – will represent Europe; 18% will represent Latin America; and 22 electors, or nearly 17 percent, will represent Asia, as Italian Cardinal-designate Giorgio Marengo and Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari currently serve Mongolia and Syria respectively. Cardinal voters representing Asia have doubled since 2005, when 11 voters, just over 9%, represented Asia. Of today’s cardinal voters, nearly 13% will represent Africa, 10% the United States and Canada, and just over 2% Oceania.
  • The Italians are still in the majority. For centuries the College of Cardinals was largely made up of Italian clergy, and just a century ago it constituted more than half. There were 28 cardinal electors from Italy at the 2013 conclave, or 24% of all voting members. Today, even including Italian cardinals Zenari and Marengo, 16% of all voters will come from Italy.
  • The college still has a strong American contingent. With 17 cardinals, 10 of whom can vote in conclave, the United States is a distant but solid second in the College of Cardinals behind Italy, which has nearly 50 members.
  • The mark of papal predecessors. Of the 132 cardinal electors, 83 members – almost 63% – will have been created cardinals by Pope Francis; 11 of the remaining electors were appointed cardinals by Saint John Paul II and 38 by retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Fun fact: There is only one living person who was made a cardinal by Saint Paul VI: retired Pope Benedict XVI, who was raised in college in 1977 when he was 50.

  • Youngest living cardinal: Italian Cardinal Designate Giorgio Marengo, 48, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  • Youngest living American cardinal: San Diego Cardinal-designate Robert W. McElroy, 68.
  • Oldest living cardinal: Angolan Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento, 97, retired archbishop of Luanda, created cardinal by Saint John Paul in 1983.
  • Oldest living U.S. cardinal: Cardinal Adam J. Maida, 92, retired archbishop of Detroit.
  • Number of cardinals who will turn 80 by the end of this year: 6.
  • The next American cardinal of voting age to turn 80: Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, in June 2024.

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