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Jim Bittermann: Largest induction of cardinals

Jim Bittermann  

February 21, 2001
Web posted at: 9:45 PM EST (0245 GMT)

Jim Bittermann is CNN's senior European correspondent based in Paris. He frequently reports on the travels of Pope John Paul II.

Q: This has been the largest induction of cardinals in the churches. Why was this warranted?

Bittermann: It was not necessarily warranted. Any number of cardinals can do the most important job, selecting the next pope. What the pope has done is go over his own personal limit established by Paul VI and later affirmed by John Paul II namely that 120 voting cardinals be a member of the College of Cardinals when selection a pope.

With the addition of 44 cardinals today, there are now 135 voting members of the college cardinals. Either the pope plans to stay around so that 15 cardinals turn 80 or pass away, or the pope will at some point change his own rule about the number of cardinals who can vote in a papal election.

One of the things that was evident in the reselection of the cardinals today is that the pope clearly wanted to reward some faithful servants. The Vatican librarian for instance and the head of Vatican radio. As well, it seems clear that this intention as to re-center the membership of the College of Cardinals geographically, more towards eastern Europe and Latin America.


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It was an unexpectedly large number of cardinals that were added, and a number not dictated by any particular needs of the college of cardinals.

Q: Can many cardinals share John Paul’s view of the basic tenants of the Church and the church’s role in the world?

Bittermann: This is a very traditionalist group who did not get to where they are by deviating very far from central Vatican policy. None the less, having said that, there were a few surprises among the cardinals created today. Most especially, cardinal Carl Lehman of Mainz, Germany, who has repeatedly and publicly deviated from some Vatican policies. Vatican observers believe that the reason he was finally made a cardinal after years of being overlooked is that German bishops militated strongly on his behalf. Lehman is head of the German Bishops’ Synod. He is very popular in his homeland.

Q: Is there any among this group that might be considered progressive?

Bittermann: Lehman might fit into that category with some expressive progressive views on some matters. There seems to be one thread among new and old cardinals: a move away from centralized authority that John Paul has imposed during his 22 years as pope. On individual issues, there is not a great deal of variation. You can get people who will see, for instance, that the church laws on celibacy should be reconsidered or that perhaps women should have a greater role in the church or married priests should have a role in the church, but no one comes out and says directly that changes should be made, only that past policy should be reconsidered.

Q: What other duty do they have?

Bittermann: The rank of Cardinal does not give individuals any greater canonical power. All senior churchmen, including the Pope, derive their power from being bishops of their individual churches. But cardinals can vote for a new pope. Cardinals sit on a very important and influential church committee called congregations which consider every manner of church policy from who should become a bishop to whether a divorced person should be allowed to take the sacraments. While these congregations can only make recommendations to the pope, who is after all, a religious monarch, their recommendations are almost always listened to by the pope.

Q: To what can we attribute the global diverseness of this group?

Bittermann: There was no question that the pope was out to further internationalize the College of Cardinals, a move that started more than 30 years ago under the reign of Pope Paul VI. It has been greatly accelerated during reign of Pope John Paul the II. While the Pope doesn’t express it directly, many churchmen say he is intent on making the church reflect the real world. About half the world’s billion Catholics are in Latin America and with today’s creations, 1 in 5 cardinals now come from a Latin American country. So the pope, in his message seems to be hinting at one of the underlying reason for this large consistery. Namely the geographic re-centering of the College of Cardinals.

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