Tag Archives: fairness

The Papal Election

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Just a week before Pope Benedict made the surprise announcement of his imminent abdication there was an article in the New York Times about voters and elections.  The writer, Sam Wang, an associate professor at Princeton University, pointed out that in the 2012 elections for the United States House of Representatives, the candidates of the Democratic Party received 1.4 million more votes than the candidates of the Republican Party.  Yet the Republicans won control of the House by 234 seats to 201.

This undemocratic result comes from the party in power arranging electoral districts so that their party will have narrow victories in many districts while the other party will have large victories in fewer districts.  Such an arrangement of electoral districts is known as gerrymandering, and it frustrates the democratic system.

As Catholics we are often reminded by our religious authorities that the Catholic Church is not a democracy.  Yet in many ways the Church does act democratically. In the Vatican II Council for instance, the bishops arrived at final decisions by a system of majority voting.  In the coming Conclave in Rome to name the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, the new Pope will be the candidate who receives two-thirds of the Cardinals’ votes.

But there are some who question if the Conclave Cardinals are really representative of the international character of the Catholic Church in today’s world.  At the beginning of last year Pope Benedict named 22 new Cardinals.  16 were from Europe, 3 from North America, 1 from Latin America and 2 from Asia.  Many were surprised at the strong European and Western presence in these nominations, when more than half the Catholics in the world are now living in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the statistics in the 2012 Vatican Yearbook.

Towards the end of 2012 Pope Benedict called an extraordinary Consistory to name 6 more Cardinals, none of them from Europe.  One was from North America, 1 from Latin America, 3 from Asia and 1 from Africa.  It seemed like a gesture from the Pope to compensate for the imbalance of the earlier Consistory.

But it was a feeble gesture and the total picture of the Cardinals in the Church is still one of gross imbalance.  Latin America, Africa and Asia have a total of 797 million Catholics, or 68.2% of Catholics in the world.  Between them they have 41 Cardinals.  Europe and North America have a total of 76 voting Cardinals while they account for just 363 million Catholics, or 31% of world Catholics.  Oceania accounts for about 9 million Catholics, 0.9 % of the world total.  They have 1 Cardinal.

Maybe the Church will decide some day to choose the Pope by drawing lots, as the Apostles did in replacing Judas (Acts 1, 26).  But until that day comes, the growing millions of Catholics who live in the vibrant churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America deserve a proportionate voice in deciding who is best qualified to lead their Church on earth now and in the future.