VATICAN CITY – Six new cardinals are joining the elite club of churchmen who will elect the next pope, bringing a more geographically diverse mix into the European-dominated College of Cardinals.
Pope Benedict XVI will formally elevate the six at a ceremony Saturday, bestowing red hats and gold rings on prelates from Colombia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, the Philippines and U.S.
In explaining his choices for this "little consistory," Benedict said he was essentially completing his last cardinal-making ceremony held in February, when he elevated 22 cardinals, the vast majority of them European archbishops and Vatican bureaucrats.
The six new cardinals "show that the church is the church of all peoples and speaks in all languages," Benedict said last month. "It's not the church of one continent, but a universal church."
That said, the College of Cardinals remains heavily European even with the new additions: Of the 120 cardinals under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, more than half — 62 — are European. Critics have complained that the College of Cardinals no longer represents the church, since Catholicism is growing in Asia and Africa but is in crisis in much of Europe.
With the new additions, the College of Cardinals is a tad more multinational: Latin America, which boasts half of the world's Catholics, now has 21 voting-age cardinals; North America, 14; Africa, 11; Asia, 11; and Oceana, one.
Among the six new cardinals is Archbishop James Harvey, the American prefect of the papal household. As prefect, Harvey was the direct superior of the pope's former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who is serving an 18 month prison sentence in a Vatican jail for stealing the pope's private papers and leaking them to a reporter in the greatest Vatican security breach in modern times.
The Vatican spokesman has denied Harvey, 63, is leaving because of the scandal. But on the day the pope announced Harvey would be made cardinal, he also said he would leave the Vatican to take up duties as the archpriest of one of the Vatican's four Roman basilicas. Such a face-saving promotion-removal is not an uncommon Vatican personnel move.
Harvey's departure has led to much speculation about who would replace him in the delicate job of organizing the pope's daily schedule and arranging audiences.
Aside from Harvey, the new cardinals are: Abuja, Nigeria Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan; Bogota, Colombia Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez; Manila, Philippines Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle; Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites in Lebanon, His Beatitude Bechara Boutros Rai; and the major Archbishop of the Trivandrum of the Siro-Malankaresi in India, His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal.
Cardinals serve as the pope's closest advisers, but their main task is to elect a new pope.
The six new cardinals are all under age 80. Their nominations bring the number of voting-age cardinals to 120, 67 of whom were named by Benedict, all but ensuring that his successor will be chosen from a group of like-minded prelates.
Saturday's consistory marks the first time in decades that not a single European or Italian has been made a cardinal — a statistic that has not gone unnoticed in Italy. Italy still has the lions' share of cardinals, though, with 28 voting-age "princes" of the church.
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