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Appointments boost Latin American bloc

NCR Staff

The proclamation by John Paul II of 37 new cardinals makes two things clear. One is that the prospect of a Latin American successor to this Polish pope grows ever stronger. The second is that, at least from the incumbent’s point of view, none of the candidates should be measuring curtains for the papal apartments quite yet.

Although John Paul II rolled out the largest number of new cardinals in church history on Jan 21, he made it clear he doesn’t consider himself finished. He told the Sunday crowd in St. Peter’s Square that there are still others who merit becoming cardinals, and he’ll get to them next time -- meaning, if usual patterns hold, he expects to be around to hand out more red hats in two to three years.

As if to underscore his commitment to staying put, John Paul was quoted in the Roman daily Il Messagero as saying: “Since I beatified him, I hope Pius IX will help me reach the years of his pontificate.” The longest reigning pope in church history, Pius served 31 years, a hallmark the current pope would not reach until 2010.

Indeed, the fact that John Paul exceeded his own “ceiling” of 120 cardinals under age 80 signals that the pope intends to be around long enough for at least eight members of the college to surpass 80, or die, before the next papal election takes place.

So much, it would seem, for rumors of an impending resignation or a pope simply marking time.

Of course no one knows if John Paul will fulfill that ambitious aim, and his new batch of cardinals is already being scrutinized to see who might emerge as his successor. (The next pope will almost certainly be elected from among the cardinals under 80 who, according to rules adopted by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II, are eligible to vote).

The early consensus is that on balance, the new appointments seem to favor a candidate from Latin America.

For some time, Vatican observers have speculated about a Latin American pope, driven by the intersection of two factors. One is that almost 50 percent of Catholics in the world now live in Latin America. That demographic fact could have psychological impact in the first papal election of the third millennium, when cardinals will feel special pressure to choose a pope who symbolizes the church of the future.

The second is the presence of a strong Spanish-speaking power block in the Roman curia, which includes four high-ranking cardinals from Latin America. Those cardinals have powerful Italian allies who know Latin America well from their experience as papal diplomats.

The most prominent is the current secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as papal ambassador in Chile during the Pinochet years and has a special fondness for the Spanish-speaking church.

Sodano, the No. 2 figure in the church after the pope, has actively promoted Latin Americans. Most recently, he made an Argentinean, Leonardo Sandra, the sostituto, and the aide in charge of day-to-day church affairs. The post is one of the most important in the curia. Sodano’s coterie of Spanish-speaking associates in the Vatican is sometimes described as the “Latin American mafia.”

In John Paul’s Jan. 21 appointments, the number of high-ranking Latin American prelates has been significantly reinforced. Ten new Latin American cardinals will be in place after the Feb. 21 consistory, the ceremony in which new cardinals are formally installed. Combining that figure with the number of Spanish and Portuguese cardinals under 80, this “Iberian-Latin American block” totals 33, or one-fourth of the electorate, a potential juggernaut.

Cardinals in Spain and Portugal have traditionally enjoyed special ties with Latin American Catholicism, forged by shared language, history and a similar “Catholic ethos” that includes intense Marian devotion and a close partnership between church and state (possible only in predominantly Catholic cultures).

This tilt led veteran Vatican-watcher Marco Politi to wryly predict the next pope will take the name “Juan Pablo terzo” -- John Paul III.

Though there is a universal consensus that no one from the United States will be elected pope since a “superpower papacy” would be too divisive, America nevertheless got three new cardinals. Two were shoo-ins by virtue of their posts as newly appointed heads of major dioceses: Edward Egan of New York and Theodore McCarrick of Washington.

The third nomination, that of Jesuit Fr. Avery Dulles, was less predictable, although rumors suggesting the possibility have circulated for at least two years. Dulles, the son of former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and the nephew of former CIA chief Allen Dulles, is considered an “honorary” cardinal since he is already over 80.

Like other theologians similarly honored in the past by John Paul, including Henri De Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dulles was considered part of the progressive majority in the church during the era of Vatican II (1962-65), but has moved steadily to the right in the years since.

In a surprising move, the pope also named German theologian Leo Scheffczyk an “honorary” cardinal. Scheffczyk has been critical of John Paul from the right, lamenting the pope’s failure to declare the ban on women’s ordination, for example, formally infallible.

Two other Americans had been mentioned as possible cardinals in the run-up to the Jan. 21 announcement. The first, Archbishop John Foley, heads the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and likely fell victim to mathematics: There were too few spaces and too many high ranking curial officials in line.

The second omission, that of Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, is more difficult to explain, since St. Louis had, except during the tenure of Archbishop John May in the 1980s, been a “red hat see” -- a diocese presided over by a cardinal. Rigali is rumored to have a close relationship with the pope, having worked in the Vatican off and on for 30 years prior to taking over in St. Louis in 1994. That connection explains, sources say, John Paul’s decision to stop in St. Louis on his way back to Rome from Mexico City in January 1999.

Vatican sources offered two explanations. The first is that the pope is “saving” Rigali for a bigger appointment, possibly in Philadelphia, where Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua is already two-and-a-half years beyond the official retirement age. The second is that Rigali ran afoul of someone during his Vatican service and is being blocked from promotion.

John Paul said he would soon identify other cardinals he has named in pectore, meaning secretly. The pope names a cardinal in pectore either when the political situation in a given region is precarious or when church protocol calls for discretion.

Among examples of the first category, mentioned as possible in pectore appointments, are Latin Rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz (Roman Catholic administrator in Moscow) or several Chinese bishops, such as Matthias Duan Yinming, who died recently at 92, or his successor Xu Zhixuan.

As a possible entry in the second category, some believe the pope may have named his closest aide and personal secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, a cardinal. John Paul made him an archbishop in May 1998.

The nomination of German Walter Kasper, currently the No. 2 official in the Vatican office for ecumenical affairs, signals that Kasper is destined for imminent promotion. Most believe he will take over as the Vatican’s ecumenical specialist, while some think he could replace Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as head of the powerful doctrinal congregation.

If so it would be an ironic appointment, since Kasper has crossed swords with Ratzinger over the years on issues ranging from a 1993 disagreement over admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments to Kasper’s recent criticism of Dominus Iesus.

His affable, open image has already led some Vatican wags to dub him “Kasper, the friendly cardinal.”

With the announcement of what will be his eighth consistory, John Paul continues to be a record-setting pontiff. He has named more cardinals, 194, than any pope in church history (second place goes to Leo XIII, with 147, followed by Paul VI with 143 and Pius IX with 123). This crop of 37 breaks Paul VI’s previous record for the most new cardinals in one blow, 33, set on April 28, 1969.

Of the 37 new cardinals, 11 are curial officials, 21 are heads of dioceses and five are “honorary.” The cardinals represent 23 nations and four continents. Despite the large number of curial appointments, increasing their percentage of the total from 27 to 33 percent, there were other curial officials who were left off the list, including the heads of the offices for health care workers and for the interpretation of legislative texts.

The conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei received its first cardinal in Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, archbishop of Lima, Peru. Cipriani is known as a rock-solid papal loyalist.

Progressive Peruvian liberation theologian Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, formerly a priest of the Lima archdiocese, recently joined the Dominicans’ French province and moved to France, a decision many observers attribute in part to a desire to distance himself from Cipriani’s control.

Finally, one name is again conspicuously missing from the ranks of new cardinals: German Bishop Karl Lehman of Mainz, passed over for the third time. Mainz is a red-hat see. Lehman, who has criticized Vatican policy on such issues as divorce and abortion counseling, is considered a symbol of the German-speaking Catholic church, seen by many in Rome as unacceptably radical.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 2, 2001