November 23, 2007


Our new cardinals

(Listen to this editorial being read)

Two Americans are among the 23 new cardinals that Pope Benedict XVI will install at a special consistory this Saturday, Nov. 24.

For one, Cardinal-designate John P. Foley, it appears to be a personal honor for his long service to the Church. The 71-year-old archbishop from Philadelphia had been president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications for 23 years.

Many Americans probably know him best as the narrator for the pope’s televised Midnight Mass at Christmas or the one whom American TV networks like to consult whenever there is breaking news.

Those in the Catholic press know him as the former editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and for seldom missing the annual conventions of the Catholic Press Association. He was elected president of the association months before his appointment to the Vatican position. Journalists know him for his wit and as a great storyteller in private moments as well as for his intelligence.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, though, has never been headed by a cardinal—although Archbishop Andre Deskur, Archbishop Foley’s predecessor, was named a cardinal after his retirement for health reasons.

When Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Foley as grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem earlier this year, it seemed likely that he would be named a cardinal since that pontifical order has usually been headed by a cardinal.

The other new American cardinal is Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. In this case, the designation appears to be less of a personal honor than recognition of the changing Catholic demographics in the United States. Today, Galveston-Houston is the fifth largest archdiocese, behind Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston, all of whom have a cardinal heading them.

The growth of Catholics in what was once called the Protestant Bible Belt is evident in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Catholics are 3.4 times greater in number today than in 1980, increasing from 437,170 people then to 1,495,030 today. And that’s despite the fact that three new dioceses were erected from the archdiocese since then.

Galveston-Houston isn’t the only place in the South where Catholics are growing at an amazing speed. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Dallas are both six times larger than they were in 1980. The Archdiocese of Miami is larger than it was in 1980 despite the fact that four new dioceses were cut out of its territory. The Catholic population has also grown in Alabama, North and South Carolina, and throughout the Southwest.

While the rates of religious practice have fallen considerably among Catholics in New England, other places in the East and, to a certain extent, here in the Midwest, the Church in the South and Southwest has become more vibrant. Surely the pope’s designation of Archbishop DiNardi as a cardinal reflects that.

Some people have expressed surprise that Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore were not given the red hat. However, both were only recently appointed to those Sees. Equally important, both Sees already have cardinals even if they are now retired—Cardinal William Keeler in Baltimore and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington.

Our two new cardinals bring the number of American cardinals to 17. Of those, 13 are below the age of 80 and thus eligible to elect a new pope if Pope Benedict were to die soon. Our 13 voting cardinals are second only to Italy’s 21.

There are now 202 cardinals, but 81 of them are over the age of 80 and ineligible to participate in a conclave, including five of the 23 new cardinals. The current breakdown of the 121 voting cardinals shows 60 from Europe, 20 from North America, 17 from South America, 13 from Asia, nine from Africa and two from Oceania.

Ten of the 18 under-80 new cardinals are from Europe, three are from North America (Archbishop Francisco Lopez Ortega of Monterrey, Mexico, is the other one), two from South America, two from Africa, and one from Asia.

Seven of the new cardinals, including Archbishop Foley, are heads of various offices in the Vatican.

We congratulate our new cardinals.

—John F. Fink

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