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Too Eurocentric?

Christoph Strack /gsw
February 27, 2013

The majority of the 125 Catholic cardinals now hail from Europe. Some critics argue that the Church appoints too many Europeans to the influential posts, even as the number of Latin American Catholics grows steadily.

Pope Benedict XVI
Image: dapd

Supporters of the Catholic Church have spoken for years about the institution's increasing role as the head of a world religion. As support, they often reference the fact that the number of Catholics in Latin America keeps growing, despite the drop in European believers.

But these demographic changes are not reflected in the make-up of the church's cardinals. On February 18, the Vatican instated 22 new cardinals, 16 of whom hail from Europe and three from North America.

Some critics have charged the Catholic Church with Eurocentrism.

"Europe should go back to showing a more fraternal attitude towards other continents and stop looking down on the others," said Brazilian Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz in an interview with the news agency I.Media after the selection of the new cardinals.

Catholic cardinals occupy the highest post in the Church beneath that of the Pope and serve as his most important advisers. They also make up the group that organizes the selection of the Pope and ultimately votes him in.

European dominance

The result in recent years is that the proportion of European cardinals eligible to select the Pope has grown higher than in previous decades. 67 of the 125 cardinals not disqualified by age from the Pope selection process are European.

Many experts predicted that the traditionally strong role of Italians in the Church's highest offices would recede, but the opposite has proven true.

And although the College of Cardinals is not intended to be a representative body, its makeup hardly reflects the worldwide demographic shifts in Catholicism within the last few decades. Now just one out of every four Catholics lives in Europe, while around half of the world's approximately 1.2 billion Catholics live in the Americas, especially Latin America.


But the countries in which Catholicism has seen the largest growth are notably absent from the College of Cardinals. Brazil has brought forth six cardinals, and four Mexican cardinals occupy the post. If a new Pope were to be elected today, just 22 of the cardinals would be from Latin America, and three of them will turn 80 this year, eliminating them from participation in the conclave that selects the Pope.

When it comes to European cardinals, Germany follows Italy as the most common country of origin, and the Pope has made two more Germans cardinals in the most recent ceremony. That brings the total of German cardinals to nine, higher than ever before.

Furthermore the Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki is now the world's youngest cardinal at 55 years old.

The new cardinals represent one other shift in the make-up of the church's leaders. Just over half of those eligible to select the next Pope were appointed by the current pontiff Benedict XVI. It should be noted, though, that the national and continental proportion of bishops may not be a strong indicator when it comes to the selection off the next head of the Catholic Church.

Selection of the Pope centers more on theological schools and circles as well as negotiation between the cardinals from the Roman Curia and the important diocese and archdiocese worldwide.

Nonetheless, chances of a Latin American serving as the Pope's successor in the near future seem slim.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki is the youngest of his peersImage: DW
Pope Benedict XVI during the inauguration of the judicial year of the Sacred Roman Rota at the Vatican.
The cardinals occupy the Church's second-highest postImage: picture-alliance/dpa
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