The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will name a batch of new cardinals in February, a year after his last set of appointments to the select group that counsels the pope and eventually gathers to elect his successor.
Last February 22, Francis “created” 19 new cardinals, including Mario Aurelio Poli, the Pope’s replacement as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
According to current Church regulations, cardinal electors (under the age of 80) number 120, though popes can–and sometimes do–appoint more if they wish. There are currently eight vacancies, plus another two that will turn 80 by next February, totaling ten. Moreover, another two cardinals will turn 80 in March and April, so Francis may well cover those spots as well, naming perhaps 12 new cardinal electors.
Last year, Francis also named three “honorary” cardinals, men over the age of 80 who have distinguished themselves in some particular way, but who are officially too old to participate in a papal election. He may well do something similar this February.
Many predict that Francis–the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years–will continue naming cardinals from the developing world where the Church is experiencing most growth, such as his native Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
That being said, there are a number of “cardinalatial sees” in the United States (that is, archdioceses that are traditionally led by a cardinal), whose current bishops are not yet cardinals. Francis could choose to elevate any of these. Some examples are Archbishops José Gómez of Los Angeles, Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Francis’ most recent pick, Blase Cupich of Chicago.
With 18 cardinals already, however, and 11 still within the voting age, the U.S. does have a disproportionate representation. American cardinals make up some 10% of the total number, while US Catholics account for only 6% of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Father Federico Lombardi, the head of the Vatican’s press office, said that the consistory “will take place Feb. 14-15, and it will be up to the Holy Father when he decides to make the names public,” though it is generally the practice to announce the names a month or so before the official ceremony.
Though he has been pope for less than two years, Francis’ impact on the college of cardinals is already considerable. If he names even 10 new cardinal electors in February, it will bring the total of his appointees to at least 26 cardinals out of the 120, which will account for more than 20% of the college.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome