January 8, 2015

Pope Francis is reshaping the geography of the College of Cardinals

How Pope Francis has changed the College of CardinalsIn naming his second group of cardinals, Pope Francis has continued to shift the balance of the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership away from the continent it has long called home.

Pope Francis' selection of new cardinalsThe pope – the first modern pontiff born outside of Europe – announced 15 new cardinals on Jan. 4, including representatives from three Southeast Asian countries (Burma, Thailand and Vietnam) as well as New Zealand and the Pacific island nation of Tonga. Another three are from Latin America – Mexico, Uruguay and Panama – while two are natives of sub-Saharan Africa (Cape Verde and Ethiopia). Out of the 15 incoming “princes of the church,” only five are from Europe.

In less than two years, Francis has changed the geographic breakdown of the cardinals. The conclave that elected Francis in 2013 was heavily European: 52% of those cardinals were from Europe, a continent that was home to only 24% of the world’s Catholics as of 2010.

Based on the distribution of the global Catholic population, Europe is still overrepresented among cardinals who are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote for a new pope. But Europe no longer has a majority. After the new cardinals are installed Feb. 14, Europe’s share of the 125 cardinal electors will have fallen to 46%.

Meanwhile, Francis’ appointments have boosted voting-age cardinals from the Asia-Pacific region (from 9% in 2013 to 13% in 2015) and sub-Saharan Africa (from 9% to 11%).

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Dr. Marian Ronan3 years ago

    Perhaps Pope Francis is reshaping the College of Cardinals, but if so, he is doing so rather slowly. Europe still has twice as many cardinals as its Catholic population warrants, but Francis has appointed a larger number of cardinals from Europe than from any other area, a third of his total appointees. I’m underwhelmed.

    1. Scott3 years ago

      Well, the reason for the delay is that God is the one that answers these questions and makes these decisions and He does this through men (our Pope Francis (as his people suggest and recommend to him) at this time) ….. unfortunately men aren’t that up to speed……. not able to respond to difficult questions…….. NOTWITHSTANDING the issue of……… “let us offer to the pope the dogma and see if he votes/agrees and makes it an infallible matter of our Mystical Body. Lots of depth there if you wish to stay with it….. Meantime,,,,,,, a Cardinal from Tonga??????? 103,000 inhabitants… size of Milan.