Pope Francis selected a diverse and somewhat unprecedented group of 20 new cardinals on Sunday, January 11. They come from 14 different countries, including Vietnam, Mozambique, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Tonga. None of them are from the United States or Canada and only one of them, Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, is a native English speaker.
The geographic variety reflects the diversity that Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in over a thousand years, has emphasized since he was sworn in almost two years ago. In that time he has spoken passionately about diversity and inclusivity within the Church, and on Sunday he once more demonstrated his commitment to those ideals. In a speech to St. Peter's Square, the pope announced that the new cardinals "show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world."
Pope Francis “wants to raise world consciousness that this church is truly global,” said Rev. James M. Weiss, associate professor of theology at Boston College to the International Business Times. “That goal can’t be reached by continuing to appoint cardinals in places like Venice.”
Catholic University Professor Chad Pecknold says that picking cardinals is "the most important thing a pope does." Displaying his belief that the 1.2 billion Catholics who make up the Church come from all over the world and should be represented as such has made him very popular, as has enforcing inclusivity and an accurate representation of the Church's diverse members.
Remarkably, three of the new cardinals were bishops, rather than archbishops, before they were appointed, bucking the traditional system of promotion within the Church.
“I think when people look back at his time as pope, this kind of initiative will appear as one of the most significant changes he made in the ecclesial culture of the church,” said James Bretzke, a theology professor at BC to the IBT. “He’s trying to turn away from that career path of honors when people expect the red hat to fall on them.”
This change continues Pope Francis’s commitment to lessening the strict hierarchical advancement within the Catholic priest community. In his Christmas address this past year he criticized the “pathology of power” that has infected the Church, calling attention to weaknesses and problems within the Church bureaucracy, specifically sexual abuse and corruption. His actions led to the defrocking of the Vatican's ambassador to the Dominican Republic on account of abuse charges, and last year the pope replaced a priest in Germany when it was revealed that he lived in a $43 million complex.