Cardinals and conclaves, a proposal for reform from the USA


"Extra omnes"“Extra omnes”

George Weigel on First Things: more representation, retired cardinals should not vote, no more superfluous cardinals in the Curia

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican City

The College of Cardinals and the conclave need to be reformed. This is the opinion voiced by the American Catholic intellectual, George Weigel – Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre and author of an extensive biography of Pope John Paul II – in an article published in First Things. Weigel describes the College of Cardinals who voted in the recent conclave as a “strange electorate”, 20% of which were retired members. “Only eight cardinal-electors were under 65 years old (and half of the youngsters were Americans – Cardinals Burke, DiNardo, Dolan and Harvey).”

Weigel then goes on to point out how neither the Dean nor Vice-Dean of the College had the right to vote. He notes, for example, that India had more cardinal-electors than France (five compared with four) and Great Britain (none, following the resignation of Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien). Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, emeritus major-archbishop of the largest Eastern Catholic church, missed the conclave by two days, having turned 80 on 26th February, while Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, participated in the election because he turned 80 five days after the interregnum began.

George Weigel also highlights how the College of Cardinals does not really represent the Catholic population, given that Latin America, where over half of the world’s Catholics live, sent 19 cardinal-electors to the Sistine Chapel, while Italy, “where Catholic practice is not exactly robust” and accounts for 4% of the world’s Catholic population, had 28 electors.

Weigel proposes several reforms to deal with all this. First of all, he proposes the elimination of automatic cardinals’ hats for those archdioceses where faith is “moribund”. “If 7% of the local Catholic population is attending Mass on Sunday”, as happens in some cities of the Old World, why should their bishops be guaranteed membership of the College of Cardinals? Weigel proposes that we wait for the bishops of these dioceses to prove they are capable of re-evangelising their area before earning a hat.

His second proposal is to turn pontifical councils into “research institutes”, entrusting their leadership to qualified priests, religious persons or laity rather than to cardinals. A third proposal concerns the cancellation of the automatic process that makes cardinals of the heads of various administrative offices in the Vatican, such as the Government of Vatican City State, APSA (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See) and the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

Last but not least, Weigel proposes a reorganisation of the college of cardinal-electors on a geographic and demographic basis, reducing it to a maximum of 144 members (there are 120 of them today). The number 144 is a “biblical” one: 12 tribes times 12 apostles. Moreover he proposes that all cardinals lose their right to vote when they retire from service in their dioceses or from the Curia and not when they turn 80, because “an electorate in which almost one in five voters is a pensioner is not a well-designed electorate”. Neither the Dean nor the Vice-Dean of the College should be cardinals without the right to vote. Weigel also proposes that cardinal-electors should meet regularly, once every 18 months, so as to get to know one another better.


About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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