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Europe with fewer Catholics still has the most cardinals


The number of Roman Catholics is diminishing in Europe. But the continent still accounts for half of the cardinals who are able to elect a pope, compared to South America, which has 42.3 per cent of all Catholics in the world, but accounts for fewer than 1 in 5 cardinal electors.

Pope Benedict XVI on 24 November created 23 new cardinals, five of them older than 80.

According to a rule established in 1975 by Pope Paul VI, and reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, cardinals can enter the conclave to elect a pope only if they are younger than 80.

Of the 18 cardinal electors created by Pope Benedict, four are Italians, two from the United States, two from Spain, and one from each of Argentina, Germany, Poland, Ireland, France, Senegal, India, Mexico, Brazil and Kenya.

Altogether there are now 201 cardinals, 120 of them younger than 80: 60 from Europe (21 of whom are from Italy); 16 from North America; 21 from South America; nine from Africa; 12 from Asia; and two from Oceania.

Of the estimated 1.1 billion Catholics in 2007, 42.3 per cent are in South America, while only 39 per cent are in Europe, and that figure diminishes each year, according to church statistics.

Still, many Italian newspapers have speculated that Latin America has a good chance of providing the next pope for the Catholic Church.

Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, responding to suggestions that the College of Cardinals is top-heavy with Europeans and North Americans, said that the make-up of the college is actually broadly proportionate to the distribution of priests and bishops in the world.

Vatican watcher John Allen reported Bertone saying in an interview with L’Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, that the college "is not, and cannot be, a mere assembly in which the various local churches are represented using democratic methods".

Ecumenical News International