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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 02:33 GMT
Analysis: Pope strengthens rule of Rome
Cardinals
A record number of new appointments
By David Willey in Rome

The Pope sent several coded messages in announcing his choice of the first new "Princes of the Church" of the new millennium.

First, fully one-third of the members of the electoral college are now members of the Roman Curia, or central government of the Church. 

Before these appointments the Curia counted only 27% of the total. This again confirms the centralising tendencies of this papacy.

Rome rules, and Catholics who feel there is not enough feedback from the pews in the rest of the world have to swallow their disappointment.

Second, the Pope has made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of resigning because of age or infirmity in the near future. He will celebrate his 81st birthday in May and suffers from Parkinson's disease.

He specifically stated that he hopes to announce further appointments of cardinals "in the future" despite the fact that consistories (as gatherings for the creation of new members of 'the world's most exclusive club' are called) are only held once every three years or so.

Notable omission

This is a clear signal that he still counts on being centre-stage in Rome in 2004.

Leo Scheffczyk
Leo Scheffczyk is one of the new cardinals
Third, there is one notable absentee from the new list. He refused a red hat to Bishop Karl Lehmann, the head of the German Bishops Conference, who was put in charge of the German diocese of Mainz, traditionally a Cardinal's seat, as long ago as 1983.

By doing this, the Pope has expressed his dissatisfaction at the way in which some German faithful are challenging the Vatican on such matters as abortion counselling, and allowing divorced persons to receive communion.

Bishop Lehman might also be regretting his recent remarks about the possibility of the Pope retiring soon.

To counter inevitable accusations that he is down on German Catholics, the Pope did however promote two distinguished Germans.

One is Leo Scheffczyk, an aged theologian from Munich, the other, Walter Kaspar, at present number two in the Vatican department which deals with the separated Christian Churches.

Kaspar is a likeable moderate who gets on well with his Protestant and Orthodox colleagues and will now either have to be given the top job in his department or shunted into another important Vatican post.

Geographical balance

Another high flier to watch is the Pope's former chief of staff, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Re, an Italian who recently took over the key Vatican department dealing with the appointment of bishops.

The largest ever College of Cardinals reflects the increasing international weight of Latin Americans in the Catholic Church.

They now hold 20% of the posts (up 1%) while Western Europeans still remain the largest single most influential group at 38% (up a couple of points).

Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia each lost 1% in the new distribution of cardinals' appointments.

 

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See also:

21 Jan 01 | Europe
Pope names new cardinals
21 Jan 01 | Europe
The full list of new cardinals
06 Jan 01 | Europe
Pope closes Holy Door
07 Nov 00 | Europe
Pope to visit Ukraine
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