Opinion by the Rev. James Martin, special to CNN
(CNN) – Pope Francis’ selection on Sunday of 19 new cardinals, the men who will select the next pope, seems aimed to help rebalance the church in important ways, passing over at least three influential American archbishops and naming several from the Southern Hemisphere.
First, there is a decided emphasis on Africa and Latin America, including poorer countries like Haiti and Burkina Faso.
Remember that the cardinals’ most important duty is to elect the next pope. Francis is making sure that all parts of the world are adequately represented – and today the majority of Catholics are in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sixteen of the 19 new cardinals named by Francis on Sunday are younger than 80, which means they would be eligible to vote to the next pope. Of those 16, four are from the curia, or Vatican bureaucracy; two are from Europe; three are from North and Central America; three are from South America, including the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis’ position before his papal election; two are from Africa and two from Asia.
The Pope’s picks show that he wants the voice of the poor represented in the next conclave. Archbishop Chibly Langlois, 55, for example, will be the first-ever cardinal from Haiti. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, echoed this: “The choice of Cardinals of Burkina Faso and Haiti shows concern for people struck by poverty.”
Second, some selections were foregone conclusions. That is, the heads of two of the biggest Vatican offices: Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, and Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the church’s chief doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It would have been almost unthinkable not to have the heads of those two offices named.
Third, the naming of Loris Capovilla, age 98, the kind and gentle former secretary to Pope John XXIII, is a lovely nod to Good Pope John and to the Second Vatican Council. (Naming a man over 80 as cardinal is purely honorific; he cannot vote in a conclave.)
And to those who may downplay this, remember that there were many elderly priests, bishops, archbishops and theologians he could have chosen for this honor: the pope chose Capovilla, one of only three over-80 prelates so honored.
Fourth, no Americans were named. (The most obvious candidates would have been Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles; all head archdioceses where a “red hat” is traditionally given.) This probably indicates the Pope thinks the United States already has enough cardinals – at least for now.
Finally, there were no dramatic surprises. There were no women cardinals (the possibility of which the Pope himself set aside in a recent comment about not wanting to “clericalize” women); there were no theologians known for a particular body of work, like the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the founding fathers of Liberation Theology; and there was no passing over of top church officials like Mueller or Parolin.
But this is only Francis’ first consistory; he may have wanted to avoid giving people heart attacks on his first batch of selections.
The Rev. James Martin is editor at large of America magazine and author of the forthcoming book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”