In his selection of 24 new cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI has ensured that half of the college that elects the pontiff will be Europeans, although the number of Roman Catholics is growing in Africa and Asia, whilst declining in Europe.
Of the cardinals created Nov. 20 by the Pope, 15 are Europeans, of whom 10 are Italians, while nine come from the Americas, Africa and Asia.
In an article posted on the Reuters’ FaithWorld blog, French commentator Jean-Marie Guénois explained the predominance of Europeans by saying that Benedict is focusing on “reinvigorating the Christian soul of Europe.”
“Benedict has understood that while the global epicenter of Catholicism shifts every day to the southern hemisphere, that vast region can never replace the weight of history and culture,” Guénois writes. “Given that fact, he believes, Christianity has not spoken its last word in Europe.”
One of the newly created cardinals is Kurt Koch, 60, who was bishop of Basel in Switzerland until June, when he was named by Benedict as the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
There are now 203 cardinals, but only 121 of them are eligible to elect a pope, after Pope Paul VI decided that only cardinals under the age of 80 have the right to take part in the conclave.
An upper limit of the number of cardinal electors was set at 120, but as his predecessors have sometimes done, Pope Benedict decided to exceed this limit. A French cardinal will soon, however, turn 80, thereby returning to the limit.
Four of the 24 new cardinals have turned 80 so will not take part in a papal election.
Of the 121 electors, 62 are from Europe, 15 from North America, 21 from South America, 12 from Africa, 10 from Asia and one from Oceania.
Reinhard Marx, the youngest cardinal, born in 1953, is a German and archbishop of Munich and Freising, the diocese once headed by Pope Benedict when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Commenting on Marx’s elevation, Italian media commented, “Marx enters the conclave,” with a reference to the new cardinal’s 19th-century namesake, Karl Marx, the founder of the communist movement, and who criticized capitalism in a book called “Das Kapital” (Capital).