Six non-European Roman Catholic prelates will join the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in November, Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday, in a move which may affect the election of the future pope.
At the end of the weekly general audience, Benedict said he would be appointing cardinals from the United States, Lebanon, India, Nigeria, Colombia and the Philippines in a surprise consistory, the second to be held this year.
The college, the elite body that advises the pontiff and elects his successor upon his death, is currently heavily weighted in favour of Europe.
The new cardinals will be the American James Michael Harvey, Lebanon’s Bechara Boutros Rahi, India’s Baselios Cleemis, Nigeria’s John Onaiyekan, Colombia’s Ruben Salazar Gomez and Filipino Luis Antonio Tagle.
The announcement follows the death of several cardinals in recent months and will bring the number of those eligible to vote back up to the maximum of 120. Cardinals must be young enough - under 80 - to take part in a papal election.
Religious watchers had not expected there to be another consistory until next year. In February, 22 new “princes of the Church” were created amid criticism at the number of Europeans and poor representation from elsewhere.
While nearly half of the world’s Catholics are in Latin America, there was only one new cardinal appointed from “the Catholic continent”.
The nomination of seven Italians in Benedict’s fourth consistory also brought to 30 the elector cardinals from Italy - almost a quarter of the total, far outweighing any other country.
The nominations sparked rumours of a power struggle at the heart of the Vatican, with some observers saying that Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone was behind the promotion of Italians up the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.