Surprise cardinal appointments spark pope health concerns
VATICAN CITY (3rd UPDATE) – 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.
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, on November 24.
The college, the elite body that advises the pontiff and elects his successor upon his death, is currently heavily weighted in favor of Europe.
Vatican watchers had not expected there to be another consistory until next year and the surprise announcement sparked concern that the 85-year-old pontiff's health may be worse than thought.
|Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle
The consistory 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 under 80 years old to take part in a papal election.
The new cardinals will be the American James Michael Harvey, Lebanon's Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, India's Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Nigeria's John Onaiyekan, Colombia's Ruben Salazar Gomez and Filipino Luis Antonio Tagle.
Harvey, 63, prefect of the papal household since 1998, was the direct supervisor of the pope's disgraced former butler Paolo Gabriele, who was sentenced this month to 18 months in prison for stealing secret Vatican memos.
He will be named archpriest of one of the four principal basilicas in Rome.
Gabriele was Harvey's butler before the later recommended him to the pope, and observers questioned whether the posting to St. Paul's Outside the Walls was a way of removing Harvey from his position in the wake of the theft scandal.
Bechara, 72, is the head of the Christian Maronite Church in Lebanon.
Thottunkal, the youngest cardinal to be appointed, at age 53, became archbishop of Trivandrum in 2007.
Onaiyekan, 68, has fought to stop revenge attacks against Muslims and promoted peace after attacks on Christians by the Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Salazar Gomez, 70, has been the archbishop of the enormous Bogota diocese since 2010.
Tagle, 55, is noted for his young, modern approach. In February, he openly urged the Church to tackle child-sex-abuse offenders rather than covering cases up, and has called on bishops to report rather than protect pedophile suspects.
In February, 22 new cardinals were created amid criticism of 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 rumors 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.
After the new consistory, there will be 62 European cardinals eligible to vote (compared to 67 in February), 14 North Americans, 21 South Americans, 11 Africans and 11 Asians.
The news of a second consistory this year has raised concerns that the elderly pope has been hit particularly hard by his demanding schedule, by the child abuse scandals rocking the Church and by Gabriele's betrayal.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope suffered a stroke while vacationing in the Alps which briefly affected his eyesight and weakened his heart. The Vatican said he suffered another mild stroke in May 2005 after being elected pope.
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