12 October 2016
Red hats for the new guard
The announcement of 17 new cardinals shows how the Pope is shifting power in the Church to the developing world and setting the scene for the election of his successor
For centuries, there was a well-worn route for priests who became princes of the Church. Not any more. Pope Francis has thrown out the old rule book when it comes to appointing men to the world’s most exclusive club, one that grants its members rights to vote in a papal conclave and the privilege of wearing the scarlet robes reserved for princes of the Church.
In the past, being appointed to certain prestigious dioceses, or to a senior Vatican position, automatically led to the bestowal of a red hat. But now it is an open field, with the Pope scrutinising the pastoral records of the candidates and favouring risk-takers to those following a career path. In this way, he has overturned the tables of clerical ambition, while ensuring that a good chunk of those who will one day elect his successor are cut from the Francis cloth.
Last Sunday, the Pope announced the appointment of 17 new cardinals, 13 of whom are under the age of 80 and thus have conclave voting rights. Five are from countries that have never had a cardinal – the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Lesotho; three others are from dioceses whose leaders have never previously been given the red hat. Part of the aim is to continue to make the College of Cardinals more international and less European. This is something that Francis also sought to do in his consistory in February 2014 when, for the first time, he gave red hats to prelates from Cape Verde, Tonga, Burma and Panama.
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