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Cardinals' box score: The demographics of the College of Cardinals

2003 Consistory. Credit: Giulio Napolitano.

Pope Francis on Saturday will add 20 new members to the College of Cardinals, including 16 who could eventually be eligible to help elect the pontiff’s successor.

Journalists have noted often that the cardinals appointed by Pope Francis are more likely to come “from the peripheries” than were previous appointees.

But how much has the composition of the College of Cardinals changed over time? Is Pope Francis breaking new ground, or following a trend?

The Pillar looks at the numbers.

Birds of a feather

We collected data (from on the composition of the College of Cardinals since the end of the First Vatican Council, in 1870.

When Pope Francis formally elevates new cardinals Aug 27, there will 226 members of the College of Cardinals - if no one dies between now and then - with 132 eligible to elect the pope. They will come from every continent but Antartica, with the largest share coming from Europe.

May be an image of text that says 'Italy Asia Voting age cardinals by continent Rest of Europe Middle East North America Oceania Central America 120 South America Africa Africa 100 80 60 40 20 0 1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980 Chart: •Created with Datawrapper 2000 2020'

Until World War II, Italians made up the majority of the College of Cardinals. The college was smaller at that time: its composition had been set at 70 members in the 16th century; that limit remained in place until Pope John XXIII increased the number of cardinals in 1958.

The college doubled in size in the 1960s and 1970. During those decades, it began to include many more non-European members.

In 1971 Paul VI set a maximum voting age of 80, separating cardinal-electors from other cardinals for the first time.

Then in 1975, Paul VI set a new maximum number of 120 voting age cardinals.

Although popes since that time have made appointments which briefly increased the number of cardinal electors above 120 - as Francis will do on Saturday - they have generally abided by that limit.

Since 2000, the number of cardinal electors in any given year has averaged 118.

While in 1870 the College of Cardinals was entirely European, in 1875 Pope Pius IX appointed the first North American cardinal, Archbishop John McCloskey of New York.

In 1886, Pope Leo XIII added two more cardinals from North America: Archbishop Elzear-Alexandre Taschereau of Quebec and Archbishop James Gibbons of Baltimore.

In 1905, the first Latin American cardinal was appointed to the college: Joaquim Arcoverde de Albuquerque Cavalcanti, the Archbishop of Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro.

The first Asian cardinal was appointed in 1946, when Pope Pius XII added Thomas Tien Ken-hsin, the Vicar Apostolic of Tsingtao, to the college.

The first African cardinal to be appointed in modern times was Bishop Laurean Rugambwa of the Diocese of Rutabo in Tanzania, who was appointed in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.

Italy has seen largest decrease in its share of the college’s make-up. Italians were 71% of the College of Cardinals in 1873, while after this year’s consistory, native Italians will hold only 16% of voting seats in the college. Still, for a single country, Italy is doing pretty well in the college - it will have the same number of cardinals as the continent of Asia.

In terms of cardinals per Catholic, Italy still punches well above its weight. As of 2022, Italy has under 60 million Catholics, while Asia has over 150 million. But the days when Italians could make up the entire two-thirds voting majority of the College of Cardinals are long gone.

Indeed, in terms of Catholics per cardinal at the level of continents, the most over-represented continent is Oceania, where three cardinals - the Archbishop of Wellington NZ, the Bishop of Tonga, and the Archbishop of Port Moresby, New Guinea - represent the 10 million Catholics of Oceania.

The Catholics of Oceania are slightly better represented on a numerical basis in the College of Cardinals than Italian Catholics.

There is one cardinal for every 2.4 million Catholics in Oceania, while there is one Italian-born cardinal for every 3.0 million Catholics in Italy.

Cardinalate sees and the ‘peripheries’

The three cardinals from Oceania represent a key theme of Pope Francis’ appointments: naming cardinals from dioceses which have not traditionally been “cardinalate sees.”

Pope Francis in 2015 named Archbishop John Dew a cardinal from the see of Wellington, New Zealand, which has had three previous cardinals.

But there has never before been a cardinal from Tonga or from New Guinea.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, which since 1946 has customarily seen its archbishops made cardinals, has seen its Archbishop Anthony Fisher left without a red hat since his consecration as archbishop in 2014 (one year into Francis’ papacy.)

Of the 16 cardinal-electors being appointed this year, 11 are from dioceses which have not traditionally been cardinalate sees, and three are from Vatican offices, leaving only two - the Archbishop of Marseille and the Archbishop of Brasília - as the ordinaries of dioceses which have had cardinals in the recent past.

Forty-eight percent of the 94 cardinals that Pope Francis has appointed through 2022 have been the first bishop from their diocese to become a cardinal. This is the highest percentage of new cardinal sees for any post-World War II pope.

Pope Pius XII appointed the second-highest percentage of cardinals from dioceses without previous cardinals, with 41% of his appointments new cardinalate sees.

Pius XII was also the first pope to expand the college of cardinals widely beyond Western Europe. Among the dioceses from which he appointed cardinals for the first time were the archdioceses of Lima, St. Louis, Sao Paolo, Toronto, Bombay, Los Angeles, and Montreal.

The new cardinalate sees created by Pope Francis are less familiar names for Americans: Cotabato, Les Cayes, Yangon, Tonga, Tlalnepantla, Huancayo, Taomasina, and Ekwulobi.

American redbirds

When it comes to the College of Cardinals, the Church in the United States has experienced typical trends during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

The number of voting age cardinals born in the U.S. has dropped from 11 when Pope Francis was elected in 2013 to nine in 2022, once Bishop Robert McElroy officially becomes a cardinal in the August consistory.

Four U.S. ordinaries have been appointed cardinals during Pope Francis’ pontificate. Two of them, Cardinal Blase Cupich and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, are from archdioceses that have traditionally had cardinals, Chicago and Washington D.C. respectively.

The other two, Cardinal Joseph Tobin and Bishop McElroy, lead dioceses which had not had cardinals before.

Before Pope Francis, there were only two U.S. diocesan bishops named cardinals when the pope had no intention of establishing their dioceses as cardinalate sees.

In 1959, Bishop Aloisius Muench of Fargo, North Dakota was appointed a cardinal by Pope John XXIII.

Muench had become Fargo’s bishop in 1935. In 1946, he was named the pope’s representative to Germany, and he held that position - eventually becoming nuncio - until 1959.


Because Pope Pius XII had wanted an American bishop to serve as his delegate to Germany after the allied victory in World War II. Muench - who had studied in Europe and was of German ancestry - was selected at the recommendation at Cardinal Stritch.

But during Muench’s tenure in Germany, he kept his appointment in North Dakota — remaining formally Bishop of Fargo, while his auxiliary bishop led the diocese as apostolic administrator.

The bishop did resign from the Diocese of Fargo a few days before the consistory at which he received his red hat.

Even after he was a cardinal, Muench continued to envision himself as a man of the Rough Rider State, North Dakota.

He had his red cardinal’s galero shipped back to be displayed at the cathedral in Fargo, rather than hanging it at his titular church in Rome, as is often traditional for cardinals.

Cardinal John Wright of Pittsburgh was a similar case — a bishop made cardinal for his other work in the Church, while also serving as a U.S. ordinary.

After serving 10 years as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wright was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in 1969, and named a cardinal a week later.

A little more than a month later, Wright resigned from the Pittsburgh diocese, and devoted himself to the Congregation for the Clergy for another 10 years.

It remains to be seen whether Cardinal Tobin and Cardinal McElroy will be removed from their diocesan responsibilities to take up posts in the Vatican, but it seems likely that they - like Muench and Wright before them - will be the only cardinals from their dioceses.

What’s next?

What does the Church’s trend towards cardinals appointed “from the peripheries” mean for her future?

The key function of the college of cardinals is to select a new pope after the old one dies or retires. The appointments to the college made by Pope Francis have assured that when that next happens, the group of men who gather to select the new pope will be from a more widely spread set of countries and experiences than ever before.

Many of them will not know each other well. No national or regional bishops conference will have a majority. Aside from the 21% who hold some post in the Vatican, rather than serving as a diocesan bishop, many of the cardinals will not have spent much time together.

Will that affect their deliberation, and their choice for the next pontiff? That remains to be seen.