| Archbishop Telesphore Placidus Toppo
Vatican City, Sept. 28 (Reuters): Ailing Pope John Paul today appointed 31 new cardinals, the elite “princes” of the Roman Catholic Church, putting perhaps his last stamp on the group that will one day choose his successor.
All but a handful were “cardinal electors” — under 80 years old and therefore eligible to enter the conclave to elect a successor from among themselves after the current Pope’s death.
Only six were Italian, increasing the possibility that the next pope would also be from outside the country, like John Paul. A Pole, he became the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years when he was elected on October 16, 1978. New entries from Mexico, Nigeria, Sudan, Brazil, Ghana, India, Vietnam and Guatemala boosted the chance that the next pope may come from the developing world.
“The spectrum of new candidates reflects the universality of the Church with the multiplicity of its ministers,” the Pope said after reading the list to pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
He has now appointed 96 per cent of cardinal electors and the new names further increase the chances the next pontiff will also be a theological conservative who will not tamper with rulings such as bans on contraception and women priests.
The new names also injected some younger blood into the College of Cardinals, arguably the world’s most exclusive men’s club. Of the cardinal electors, five are in their 50s, 13 are in their 60s and eight are in their 70s.
Their elevation, known as a consistory, will be on October 21, after ceremonies marking the Pope’s 25th anniversary.
The new cardinals included Justin Rigali of Philadelphia in the US, George Pell of Sydney, Australia, Keith Michael Patrick ’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland and Telesphore Placidus Toppo from Ranchi, India. They also included three men from places where the Church has suffered: Jean-Baptise Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, Gabriel Zubeir Wako of Sudan and Rodolfo Quezada Toruno of Guatemala.
Significantly, the list did not include Archbishop Sean Patrick ’Malley, recently called to head the Boston archdiocese in the wake of a child sex scandal. He had been widely expected to be made a cardinal. The Vatican gave no explanation.
One cardinal was “in pectore”, or secret. Popes do this when identifying him may compromise his position. There was speculation that he may be in China, where an underground Church recognises the Vatican in defiance of the communist government.
The cardinals include top Vatican officials as well as prelates from Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland.
It is the ninth time the frail Pope has appointed cardinals and it may be his last chance to influence the group that will choose the next leader of the world’s one billion Catholics.