In picking the next pope, Catholic population doesn’t equal power
European cardinals will make up more than 50% of the conclave, despite the fact Europeans make up less than a quarter of the church’s overall population.
February 19th, 2013
01:06 PM ET

In picking the next pope, Catholic population doesn’t equal power

By Eric Marrapodi and Dan Merica, CNN
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(CNN) – Despite calls for a new pope from Latin America or Africa, the areas of the Catholic Church experiencing the most rapid growth, the power in the College of Cardinals is decidedly European.

The rapid growth of the Catholic population in Latin America and Africa has not yet led to a proportional balancing of the College of Cardinals.  The makeup of the college skews overwhelmingly European, while the majority of the congregants are increasingly not European.

“It (the College of Cardinals) doesn't reflect the population, it reflects the power structure,” said William D’Antonio, a professor at The Catholic University of America. “It is like a corporation. The corporation picks its own board of directors. You might own some stock in it, but you are really fighting a battle against a corporation here.”

Dubbed the “princes of the church,” the cardinals’ main role is to select the next pope, which is done in a secret conclave in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.  Cardinals are handpicked by the pope both to choose his successor and to assist in the daily needs of the church.  When they are elevated to the role they take on a red hat, symbolic of their willingness to shed their own blood for their faith.

Cardinals have selected the pope since 1059, and the College of Cardinals was formally established in 1150.

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When the doors to the Sistine Chapel are closed and the secret deliberations begin, the 117 men in the 2013 papal conclave will not only be selecting a pope as the new bishop of Rome, but also as the pastor of the 1,195,671,000-member global communion.

There were approximately 284,924,000 Catholics living in Europe, according to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church for 2010, the most recent year the church has made such data available. In Italy, which surrounds Vatican City, there were 57,554,000 Catholics in 2010.

Of the cardinals tapped to select the next pope, 62 hail from Europe, with almost half of them - 28 - from Italy.

“I found that, as the American ambassador, it was extremely helpful to speak Italian,” said Miguel H. Díaz, the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and now University Professor of Faith and Culture at University of Dayton. “While English is increasingly the working language among some cardinals, Italian remains an important language.”

European cardinals will make up more than 50% of the conclave, despite the fact Europeans make up less than a quarter of the church’s overall population.

“One hundred years ago, circa 1913, about 70% of all Catholics lived in Europe - thus, not surprising that the great majority of cardinals came from Europe,” said D’Antonio. “They have been slow to recognize the changing distribution of the population, or to acknowledge it. Then, given the system, we should not be so surprised at the slow pace of change.”

Brazil, the country with the largest population of the Catholics in the world - 163,269,000 million - has six cardinals, despite being home to a tenth of the church’s global population.

South America as a whole has 339,017,000 million Catholics. Add in Central America and the number jumps to 501,333,000. Those two regions have 19 cardinals.

The continent of Africa is home to 185,620,000 million Catholics, but only 11 cardinals.

“There’s a long history with that part of the world. There is clearly an awareness that the church had for a long time been a Eurocentric church,” Díaz said of Latin America. “I think that as we turn this page, more and more we’ll see, at least many people hope that you will see, a greater and greater number of cardinals coming from the South.”

The United States is home to 77.7 million Catholics, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  There will be 11 U.S. cardinals voting in the conclave.

Pope Benedict XVI’s successor to the papal throne must be elected by a two-thirds vote from the College of Cardinals.

If the red hats were divvied up proportionally based on population, then Brazil would have 12 cardinals, double the number the country currently has.  In that scenario Italy would be the big loser; with only a 20th of the global Catholic population, its share of cardinals would shrink from 28 to six.

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Canon law, which dictates the operation of the church, caps the number of cardinals in the college at 120. But the pope is under no obligation to appoint cardinals proportionally.

“Those to be promoted Cardinals are men freely selected by the Roman Pontiff, who are at least in the order of the priesthood and are truly outstanding for doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters,” canon law reads.

One quirk of canon law also helps explain why there are so many Italian cardinals. The law says cardinals “have the obligation of cooperating closely with the Roman Pontiff.”

If the cardinal is not a diocesan bishop - like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is archbishop of New York - then the cardinal is “obliged to reside in Rome.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, told reporters last week that when the cardinals vote, they will be answering to a higher call than considerations of citizenship or nationality.

"When we go into the conclave, what has to be upper in the minds of all of us is what is God asking of us in making a choice. Who will fill the chair of Peter? And I think that's going to be the only consideration," said Wuerl. "Who among this body has the qualifications, the characteristics, the spiritual gifts to fill that chair?"

So what are the chances that the next pope will come from outside Europe? Not high, said D’Antonio.

“I do not see anybody coming out of the pack,” he concluded. “If they go back and take the cardinal from Milano, there is a possibility he will be a little more of a politician, get along better, be less concerned about sex sins, but he is part of the corporation. It is just difficult to see how there would be any other choice.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Africa • Americas • Belief • Catholic Church • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • South America

soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. CGAW

    Just an articel on the process and the likelihood of a non-Euro pope. Not too much for atheists to get riled up about.

    February 19, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      Nice pre-emptive ad hominem. You should try to be less bitter, resentful and angry.

      February 19, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • ..

      Thanks for confirming that Catholics don't give a shit about children getting raped by priests. The most vocal against this ARE the atheists.

      February 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  2. Mailrick

    It's all just a crock of cheap entertainment.

    February 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      Yeah...everyone wants to be entertained by the drag queens

      February 20, 2013 at 6:19 am |
  3. AvdBerg

    I posted the wrong site, make sure to find the truth at http://www.gaychristian101.com

    February 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      May God forgive you.

      February 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      You'll be the one needing forgiving.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  4. truth be told

    All so called atheists are liars. that said they now know that the morally decent other 99% of the world have always been wise to their crap. The only ones fooled by so called atheists are other so called atheists.

    February 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Pete

      "All so called atheists are liars."

      more lies from the xtians – 204!

      February 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • truth be told

      Thanks for adding proof to my statement.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Pete

      Thanks for proving my point.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • truth be mold

      The only kind of "trickle-down" that actually works:

      "pervert alert" degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "nope" degenerates to:
      and many other names, but of course I prefer to refer to this extreme homophobe as
      the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. troll.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  5. End Religion

    "The only unforgiveable sin is not being gullable enough to believe unsupported unintelligeable nonsense contradictions asserted by the most dishonest and least credible sources."
    – AronRa

    February 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • End Religion

      or, perhaps, spelling errors...

      February 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  6. ThEffectPR

    Reblogged this on thEffectpr and commented:
    African and Latin American Growth in the Catholic Population Raises Questions About Pope's Successor

    February 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  7. truth be told

    I'm a useless sack of excrement

    February 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • truth be told

      No one is dumb enough to buy into the stolen name thing but you and your own kind.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  8. Ungodly Discipline

    How could anyone wear those ridiculous dresses with a straight face?

    February 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Elton John?

      February 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Eddie Vanmeer

      I just love those dresses

      February 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • clarity

      They do really need to choreograph a light dance number for the cardinals and the swiss guard sometime before they all soon go away and join the ranks of Camelot, Harry Potter, etc.

      February 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Possibilities

      It's really screaming to be a Monty Python song and dance skit.

      February 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      Or a Mel Brooks one

      February 20, 2013 at 6:21 am |
  9. Starshine

    The Universe ceases to exist at the moment of your death. Likewise, the Universe springs into existence at the moment of comprehension. “Reality” is personal. It is not universal. What I believe, is true. What I perceive, is real. Therefore, there is an infinite number of realities (call them universes) both coming and going at all times for infinity. The reason physics breaks down as we get close to that frightening doom is because we realize at that point that WE are the God we seek. We create our reality only to destroy it and start again for all of eternity.

    Nothing can be proven beyond the existence of the self. No perception felt by the mind can be regarded as truly verifiable, and so its existence is not certain. Hence, nothing outside the mind of the observer can be rationally confirmed.

    February 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Alias

      This is how my child used to talk after reading her first intro to philosophy book.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • G to the T

      Not really... YOUR universe begins and ends at those times but the Universe itself couldn't give a crap if you exist or not. That's why science is our best tool for modeling the universe. If multiple people perform the same tests and get the same answer – it's a very good sign that something approximating the objective universe has been observed. Everything else is subjective and only exist in your head... that doesn't mean they don't have weight or meaning, just no physical existence.

      February 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Raison d'etre

    Religious people are a bunch of @ssholes. We would have flying cars and a cure for every disease if it weren't for these docile, small minded, science/progress hating sheep.

    February 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeah, I want my flying car! I want to be free. To ride my machine. Without getting hassled by the man.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Sadly, I bet you actually believe what you posted is true. Meet George Jetson, his boy Elroy...

      February 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  11. AvdBerg

    Find the real truth at http://www.gaychristian101.com.

    February 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  12. Saraswati

    CNN's repeated claims of Catholic growth in latin america are very misleading. While the absolute numbers are increasing somewhat due to population growth, the relative proportion of absolute population is dropping rapidly. Even where people call themselves Catholic, it is often much like in the US, where affiliation is more familial and cultural than true belief.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Sara you haven't gotten into the business of deciding who has true belief have you?

      February 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  13. Sara Howells


    February 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Bootyfunk

    look at that picture. who would leave their children alone with any of those guys?

    February 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • M.A.D

      you mean those chain gang guys!!!

      February 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
  15. Eric G

    Verifiable evidence please.......

    February 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  16. M.A.D

    spreading Catholicism in Latin America or Africa is no more than business, those guys are converted local tribes people, umm second class citizens of Catholic churches.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  17. AvdBerg

    Sorry wrong site posted make sure to check out http://www.gaychristian101.com. This is a great site and truth.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      You do not understand what truth is, as apparent from your site.

      February 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  18. Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

    'When they are elevated to the role they take on a red hat, symbolic of their willingness to shed their own blood for their faith."
    It should be milky white...more fitting

    February 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Lying is not healthy for children and other living things.
      Stop lying

      February 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • just sayin

      My PANTS

      February 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • truth be told

      Still stealing names, how is that working out for you?

      February 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      February 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • truth be told

      Just wondering...because it works out great for me and all 7 of my aliases.

      February 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi prayerbot.

      February 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • truth be told

      All so called atheists are liars and now appear to be thieves and cowards as well. Truth be told the only ones fooled by so called atheists are other so called atheists.

      February 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Pete

      "All so called atheists are liars"

      more lies from the xtians – 201!

      February 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  20. sam

    Now I just feel like I need another shower.

    February 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Alias

      Just remember to check for priests before you pick up any soap.

      February 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.