Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


The College: Re-growth in Numbers but Not Necessarily in Geographic Diversity

Pope Benedict XVI has named 24 bishops who will be elevated to cardinal on Nov. 20, 2010. The list includes our local Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl. Twenty are under the age of 80—making them eligible to serve as cardinal electors (i.e., those who would have a vote at a papal conclave). There are currently 102 cardinal electors (out of a total of 179 cardinals). Before the new cardinal electors join the College of Cardinals, Jānis Cardinal Pujats of Latvia will reach the age of 80, resulting in a total number of cardinal electors of 121 going into 2011. A majority of these cardinal electors will continue to be those who were selected by Pope John Paul II (71 electors or 59%). Ten other cardinal electors will reach the age of 80 before the beginning of 2012. These ten include Bernard Francis Cardinal Law and William Henry Cardinal Keeler of the United States.

A cardinal’s two central roles are electing and advising as outlined in the Church’s Code of Canon Law:

The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church constitute a special college whose responsibility is to provide for the election of the Roman Pontiff in accord with the norm of special law; the cardinals assist the Roman Pontiff collegially when they are called together to deal with questions of major importance (Canon 349).

Given these duties it might be expected that the composition of the College might generally reflect the composition of the global Catholic Church. However, geographic disparities by Catholic population size continue to be evident. For the last century, the Western Hemisphere has been underrepresented at the Catholic Church’s papal conclaves in terms of the size of its growing Catholic population. Of course cardinals are not representing any geographic area at a conclave. Yet commentators and academics have commented on aspects of nationalism, such as Thomas Reese, who notes that “nationality is clearly important” at papal conclaves (see: Inside the Vatican: The politics and organization of the Catholic Church. 1996. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 96). It is no coincidence that such a long time has passed since a non-European has been elected or that so many Italians have been selected. The two most recent popes are the only selections from outside of what is now Italy since 1522 and it has been more than 1,300 years since someone who was not born in Europe has served as pope.

Historically it often made sense for many cardinals to be Italian as the Church could not wait long periods of time for cardinals to travel to conclaves. It is also the case that many in the Church’s hierarchy resides in Rome and the pope is the Bishop of Rome, Primate of Italy, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, etc. But technology has caught up with history and now cardinals can quickly travel to Vatican City from anywhere in the world. Thus, it is interesting to see that the College is still so heavily populated by Italians. Eight out of the 20 new cardinal electors were born in Italy. In the last 50 years, European cardinals in general have continued to be much more numerous among all voting members of the College as European Catholics have become a smaller and smaller share of the world’s Catholic population.

Now for the data… All geographic divisions used below reflect the organization of the Church itself. These are the boundaries designated by the Catholic Church in its annual data collection efforts and reporting. The primary source for much of the data is the Vatican’s Central Statistics Office (i.e., Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, 2008). Thus, the units of analysis and the quality of data should both be viewed in light of this being how the Catholic Church organizes, views, and, describes itself to the world, rather than some arbitrary classifications. Using these definitions we can measure geographic disproportionality using the standard Loosemore-Hanby Index (Loosemore and Hanby 1971, “The Theoretical Limits of Maximum Distortion: Some Analytic Expressions for Electoral Systems.” British Journal of Political Science, 1: 467-477). If the percentage of voting cardinals from each region were the same as the percentage of the world Catholic population in each region then disproportionality would be zero (representing perfect apportionment). As 2011 begins, the total regional disproportionality between cardinal electors and the Catholic population will measure 32.8 percentage points. Update (2/28/2013): The figure below for the 2013 conclave can be found here.

In the most recent annual edition of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, the Vatican estimates that 49.4% of the global Catholic population resides in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, in 2011 only 28.9% of the cardinal electors will be from this area of the world. This includes the United States, which is actually over-represented in the College (10.7% of cardinal electors and 5.9% of the world’s Catholic population. Italy is the most overrepresented 20.7% of cardinal electors and 4.9% of the world’s Catholic population). South America remains the most underrepresented with only 9.9% of cardinal electors and 28.6% of the world’s Catholic population.

Note: The Loosemore-Hanby Index is calculated using the following formula: D = ½ ∑ ABS (cardinal elector % - Catholic population %). Information regarding the cardinal electors is from:

Above photo courtesy of ToastyKen at Flickr Creative Commons.

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