November 17, 2016

Pope Francis shaping a College of Cardinals that is less European

Unless his reign is short, a Roman Catholic pontiff will appoint most of the men who choose his successor. But Pope Francis’ additions to the College of Cardinals since his election in 2013 also have served another purpose – tilting the leadership structure of the Roman Catholic Church away from its historic European base and toward the global south.

Only three of the 13 voting members of the newest cardinal-designates (those younger than 80), who will be elevated to their positions on Nov. 19, are from Europe. Three others hail from countries in Latin America (Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela), three from North America (the United States), two from sub-Saharan Africa (Central African Republic and Mauritius), and two from the Asia-Pacific region (Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea).

Altogether, there will be 121 voting members of the College of Cardinals, which selects the next pope when a vacancy occurs. In 2013, the body that elected Francis was 52% European, but now, after three rounds of Francis’ selections, just 45% of the cardinal-electors are from Europe.

Given that, as of 2010, 24% of the global Catholic population is from Europe, the continent remains heavily overrepresented among cardinals who are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote for a new pope. By this measure, the most underrepresented continent within the church’s leadership (even with Francis’ new picks) is Latin America, which, as of 2010, has 39% of the worldwide Catholic population and 17% of its cardinals.

Francis’ appointments have increased the overall representation for the Asia-Pacific region (from 9% in 2013 to 14% in 2016) and sub-Saharan Africa (from 9% to 12%) within the body of cardinal-electors. These figures include cardinals who were named by St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Of the 44 voting cardinals Francis has named during his papacy, 32% have been from Europe, 25% from Latin America, 20% from the Asia-Pacific region, 14% from sub-Saharan Africa, and 9% from North America.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Catholics and Catholicism, Europe, Latin America, North America, Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religious Leaders, Sub-Saharan Africa

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