Pope Benedict Names 24 New Cardinals

Pope Benedict named 24 men to the College of Cardinals this week. It's the third round of cardinals he has picked, which means he's dramatically influenced the body of men who will elect his successor. John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter talks to Steve Inskeep about the impact Benedict's choices will have on the Catholic Church.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Pope Benedict, of the Catholic Church, named two dozen men to the College of Cardinals this week. These are the church officials just below the level of the pope himself.

We're going to talk about the impact of those choices with John Allen. He's a reporter for The National Catholic Reporter´┐Żand a regular guest on this program.

John, welcome back.

Mr. JOHN ALLEN (Reporter, The National Catholic Reporter): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the significance of who is a cardinal and who is not in the Catholic Church?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, Steve, in my experience, if there's one thing that even the most religiously illiterate person gets about the Catholic Church, it's the difference between a cardinal and everyone else. I mean people know that cardinals matter. They are the most senior advisors to the pope. They are very visible global figures. And, of course, they get to elect the next pope, and therefore there is no cast in Catholic Church that is more influential than the College of Cardinals.

INSKEEP: So, Pope Benedict, what is he doing with these choices as far as you can tell?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think the big takeaway from this group of 24 new cardinals, Steve, would be that it's top-heavy with Italians and bureaucrats. Eight of the 20 new voting cardinals are Italians, bringing the Italian share of the voting college up to about 20 percent or one-fifth. And 10 are actually Vatican officials, which is actually going to bring their share up to about 40 percent.

So I think many people would see this as a kind of vote for business as usual.

INSKEEP: I'm interested. People on the outside, at least, will ask questions about the politics of these cardinals. Are they as conservative as the church has been, more conservative, a tad more liberal? Is there a way to characterize them?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, Steve, the truth is that there aren't any real liberals in the College of Cardinals, particularly if you mean that by the standards of secular politics. I mean, there wouldn't be anyone there who would question church teaching on abortion or homosexuality, for example.

But I do think there's a fair mix between what you might call the moderates and the conservatives. I mean we see that in the two Americans who are in this crop of new cardinals. One, Archbishop Raymond Burke, used to be in St. Louis, he's now in the Vatican, would very much be seen as a kind of arch-traditionalist, a cultural warrior on issues like sexual ethics, and so on.

The other is Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, who would be seen very much as a centrist, a pragmatist, a kind of behind-the-scenes broker of compromise.

So, again, I think what you see is a lot of veteran church insiders. And so what you'll get from this crop is basically continuity with the way things have always been done.

INSKEEP: They're establishmentarians. That's what it is, if that's the right word.

Mr. ALLEN: Yes, Steve. I mean if I can use a political comparison. This would be like a midterm election in which all the incumbents are re-elected.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Something that may not actually happen here in the United States.

Mr. ALLEN: Probably not.

INSKEEP: Probably not. One other thing I'm curious about and that is the demographic makeup of the cardinals. Because these tend to be older or even very old men, I'm curious if they reflect the church as it is now or the way that it was 40 or 50 or 60 years ago.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, Steve, I always say that when you're looking for change in the Catholic Church, in many ways the Vatican is last place to go looking for it. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, of whom two-thirds now live the Southern Hemisphere: Africa, Asia, Latin America.

But if you look at the College of Cardinals, two-thirds of them still come from Europe and North America. And that's true in this crop, as well. Only seven of them are from the global south.

So you've got kind of a mismatch, I think that will change over time. But as it always works in the Catholic Church, when we say time we're talking evolutionary time.

INSKEEP: I can't let you go, John Allen, without asking about one other aspect of this. We're talking about an institution that has been under severe strain because of sex scandals.

What does this batch of cardinals say about Pope Benedict's view of the scandals that he's faced?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think what it says, is that Benedict believes the response to the scandal is not in sweeping change, but instead in what he calls sort of spiritual rebirth in a period of penance. I mean I think he grasps the sort of scope and magnitude of this problem. But I think he believes it's a spiritual and cultural struggle, rather than a management struggle.

INSKEEP: John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, thanks very much.

Mr. ALLEN: Always a pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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