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. Skorpio

    The Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church consists of more than 20 Catholic churches, in theory ANY Catholic Eastern rite or Catholic Orthodox Patriarch could be elected as the new Pope. Perhaps an Arab Pope would trigger millions of new Muslim converts to Christianity and diminish world Islamic violence, terrorism and discrimination.

    February 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  2. Banjo Ferret

    The next Pope should be a Ferretian! Catholics have had their day, they have abused their children, let's stop this false sky daddy nonsense and install a representative of Ferretianism, the one true religion. Repent! (banjoferret d c)

    February 23, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  3. Ann

    How festive! They're wearing their Halloween doilies.

    February 22, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  4. macroamerica

    There's little money to be got from the African and South American Catholic growth, so the power will remain with European and North American cardinals, most likely. Money is power, even in the Catholic Church.

    February 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. abmri60

    The most powerful man in the world : Peter Hans Kolvenbach--aka the Black Pope.

    February 21, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Deoacveritati

      I am a catholic and you are simply rediculous!!!

      February 22, 2013 at 1:04 am |
  6. Acrabahyiouspe

    Brazil, the country with the largest population of the Catholics in the world – 163,269,000 million

    Wow, 163 trillion Catholics in Brazil alone!

    February 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • hj

      Brasil is the new Sodom and Gomorrah ... nowhere in the world is life like that .....

      February 22, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  7. Atheism is healthy for everyone -pets too!

    Prayer is just a time-sucker-upper.

    February 21, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Ted Ward

      Go back to your Xbox.

      February 21, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Deoacveritati

      You're an idiot!!!

      February 22, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 21, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • snopes says

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things" is unfounded.
      "Prayer changes things" is unfounded.

      February 21, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • 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 21, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      This is inaccurate wouldn't you agree? Especially when the data shows that atheists tend to have happier and healthier marriages than conservative Christians.

      February 21, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • as always

      atheists are liars

      February 21, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Pete

      "atheists are liars"

      more lies from the xtians – 209!

      February 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Skull

      It's true. I once prayed for the light to change, and BAM! green light. Worked at the next two lights too. Thank you Jesus for cutting 5 minutes off my commute, you knew I was running late and came in with the save.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:14 am |
  9. Science

    Separation of church and state

    New science standards created by 26 states (majority) for 2013 and beyond,, .. It is called Stem standards for public schools....

    No god(s) required
    By the way creatoin/ID LOST DEPUNKED at the Dover trial in 2005


    February 21, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  10. End Religion

    These guys should buy out whoever owns pope.com, build a web site and sell their funny hats. I see dollars in their future.

    February 21, 2013 at 6:21 am |
  11. aurelius

    I don't see Berlusconi . . . YET!

    February 21, 2013 at 12:26 am |
  12. john blahuta

    the catholic church has to realize it MUST act as a political power. otherwise the decline will accelerate.i hope the cardinals are aware of the precarious situation

    February 20, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Mala

      I hope they don't become aware. Then the decline of their sect will just happen. It's just time for that.

      February 21, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • ScepticStill

      the top end of the roman catholic church has always been political

      February 21, 2013 at 5:43 am |
  13. part-time catholic

    Back to the issue of disproportionate representation.
    Could it be that because the college of cardinals is too europe-centric that the church as a whole, or the board of directors of the corporation, is oblivious to what goes on outside of europe? I think so.

    February 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  14. jehovah

    ATHIESTS SHOULD BE TREATED AS RADICAL ISLAMISTS......why because they deny existence ,persecute beliefs that differ from their own and blow stuff out of proportion when they don't get their own way....AMEN...

    February 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "ATHIESTS"
      Who are athi? And who are the most athi?

      You said, "because they deny existence"
      No, they don't. They just don't believe in the Easter Bunny, and other mythical creatures.

      You said, "persecute beliefs that differ from their own and blow stuff out of proportion when they don't get their own way."
      You are free to cling to your infantile beliefs all you want. You are free to worship your imaginary friend as often as you want.

      If you choose to put your silly beliefs and superstitions on display on a public forum such as this, you should expect to have them questioned.

      But questioning silly beliefs and superstitions doesn't equal persecution. Pointing out that believing in the Tooth Fairy isn't rational given the lack of evidence for such a creature, is a public service. You are free to do what you want with this public service.

      February 21, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  15. U.S. Catholic

    The racial/ethnic breakdown of the Catholic Church worldwide does NOT reflect the ethnic components of the world population. Ditto for the U.S. Church. Instead of saying why isn't there a Latino/African pope because there are so many Catholics from those areas, the Church (and the world) should be asking - why are Latino/Africans disproportionately represented in Church membership ? All people have a right to belong to the Catholic Church if they so choose.

    February 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Mala

      Why is there a church at all? I mean, why does a god need worship, or need us to give him anything?

      February 21, 2013 at 1:35 am |
  16. tallulah13

    The picture looks like the vatican cheer squad.

    February 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • sam stone

      Vatican City's equivalent of NAMBLA

      February 20, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      Sam thats like saying everyone in Penn State has a nambla membership. Dont generalize.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Says the person who routinely conflates hom/ose/xuality with pedophilia.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      not at all what i am saying, Same Old Cvnt.....don't attribute to me words I never said.

      February 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      while we are at it, SOC, let's hear about Penn State's long term, systematic cover up of the abuse

      or let's hear about how Penn State purports to be a moral authority, with the head of it being god's representative on earth.

      February 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  17. Universe

    Verses regarding Mary in Quran (Islamic Scripture)

    “Mention in the scripture Mary. She isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location.” [19:16]

    “While a barrier separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit. He went to her in the form of a human being.”

    She said, "I seek refuge in the Most Gracious, that you may be righteous."

    He said, "I am the messenger of your Lord, to grant you a pure son."

    She said, "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me; I have never been unchaste."

    He said, "Thus said your Lord, `It is easy for Me. We will render him a sign for the people, and mercy from us. This is a predestined matter.' "

    When she bore him, she isolated herself to a faraway place.

    The birth process came to her by the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "(I am so ashamed;) I wish I were dead before this happened, and completely forgotten."

    (The infant) called her from beneath her, saying, "Do not grieve. Your Lord has provided you with a stream.

    "If you shake the trunk of this palm tree, it will drop ripe dates for you.*

    "Eat and drink, and be happy. When you see anyone, say, `I have made a vow of silence, [to the Most Gracious]*; I am not talking today to anyone.' "

    She came to her family, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have committed something that is totally unexpected.

    "O descendant of Aaron, your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother unchaste."

    She pointed to him. They said, "How can we talk with an infant in the crib?"

    (The infant spoke and) said, "I am a servant of God. He has given me the scripture, and has appointed me a prophet.

    "He made me blessed wherever I go, and enjoined me to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat) for as long as I live.

    "I am to honor my mother; He did not make me a disobedient rebel.

    "And peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I get resurrected."

    “That was Jesus, the son of Mary, and this is the truth of this matter, about which they continue to doubt.”

    “It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is.”

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    February 20, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  18. Reality

    " Fools Awake!

    O fools, awake! The rites ye sacred hold

    Are but a cheat contrived by men of old

    Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust

    And died in baseness-and their law is dust."


    February 20, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  19. truth be told

    A few ho mose xuals lied their way into the priesthood to victimize the innocent. To blame the entire church for the crimes of a few perverts is like blaming banks because there are bank robberies. Bearing false witness is a sin, other than the criminal ho mose xual the majority of the priesthood and the men pictured are morally decent servants of the church.

    February 20, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • NorthVanCan

      Did you see the Rat slap the hand of the reporter that asked about the child victims?
      Most telling I must say.

      February 20, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • truth be mold

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

      "pervert alert" degenerates to:
      "Taskmaster" 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 this extreme homophobe is
      the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. troll.

      February 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • ReligionIsBS

      pedophilia is one thing. Covering up thousands upon thousands of cases of pedophila and sending the criminals to other locations and keeping them from prosecution is another. Face it, those that protected the pedos are just as guilty. Let me guess, your just going to call all of the bishops and cardinals that did this gay too. LOL,you are seriously deluded.

      February 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • ..

      You bear false witness all the time, you delusional dipshit. When is God going to strike you dead, already? Fucking troll.

      February 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      The bishops were misguided

      February 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      "The bishops were misguided" into the bottoms of children...

      February 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Miss Disembogue

    What is the collective noun for a group of Roman Catholic pedophiles? Whatever it is, CNN has caught the perfect picture of them. Would you trust your 8 year old son with any of them?

    February 20, 2013 at 1:06 am |
    • bobk52

      Like +1

      February 20, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      Again, generalization. There may be some odd p3doph1les in the church, when a g@y infiltrated the church to do his thing. It doesnt make anyone else a p3dophile.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      that's true, SOC, it just makes those who covered up guilty of enabling it.

      spend a lot of time on your knees, do you?

      February 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      SoldierOfNoConscience, please provide evidence that there is a plot by gays to infiltrate the RCC. When you are done that, please provide data to support a link between gays and child abuse.

      I'm betting you've got exactly the same amount of evidence for these claims as you do for your imaginary god – absolutely nothing!

      February 20, 2013 at 6:15 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.