STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When it comes time to select a new pope the choice is made by the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals. Yesterday, Pope Francis named a number of new cardinals, including 15 who will be eligible to vote for his successor. So it was an important choice and much has been read into the names that the pope chose. Boston Globe associate editor John Allen has covered the Vatican for many years. He joins us from Rome. Hi, John.
JOHN ALLEN: Hello there, Steve.
INSKEEP: Do these cardinals break with tradition in some way?
ALLEN: In almost every way, Steve, the answer to that question is yes. The thing that smacks you in the face about the line-up that Pope Francis announced yesterday is the geographical diversity of these 15, what we call, cardinal electors, meaning men who have the right to vote for the Pope. Only one of them is a Vatican official, only five come from Europe, there's no one from the United States.
Meanwhile, you've got new cardinals for three countries that have never, ever had one before - MyanMar, Cape Verde and the island of Tonga. There are also cardinals from Panama, from Thailand, from New Zealand, I mean, literally, all over the map. And even within countries that are accustomed to having cardinals, such as Italy, Francis bypassed the traditional centers of power, such as Venice and Turin, and gave cardinals to places, like Agrigento on the island of Sicily, that don't usually have them. So it really is a revolutionary crop of cardinals in almost every sense of the word.
INSKEEP: So does that geographic choice reflect the direction the Catholic Church seems to be evolving?
ALLEN: Yes, I mean, Francis is, of course, the first pope from the developing world. I think he believes that he was elected on a mandate, in part, to make sure that the global reality of Catholicism today - I mean, 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, two-thirds of them live outside Europe and North America. He wants to make sure that that global reality is more thoroughly heard at the senior level of the church, meaning inside the College of Cardinals and also inside the Vatican bureaucracy.
INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned the Vatican bureaucracy, you also said that there was only one of these 15 new Cardinals with voting power for a new pope who come from inside that bureaucracy. I can't help but recall that it was only a few weeks ago that the pope was talking about problems in that bureaucracy and accusing it of spiritual Alzheimer's. What's he upset about?
ALLEN: Well - and you left out the terrorism of gossip and 13 other spiritual diseases, which Pope Francis charged that the mandarins at the Vatican are sometimes infected. I think what it's about, Steve, is that there's a perception at times that the conversation in Catholicism is a little one way - that is that Rome speaks and the rest of the world listens.
I think what Pope Francis is doing is trying to make sure that it's a two-way dialogue so that the voices of the rest of the world are also heard in Rome. I think that speech to the upper echelons of the Vatican - known as the Roman curia - which happened just before Christmas, was intended to be a wake-up call in that direction, and the appointments of new cardinals that Pope Francis announced on Sunday clearly moves in the same direction.
INSKEEP: Some people will be wondering if you look at these 15 cardinals, though, and they do express this voice from other parts of the world, are they likely to push the church to the left, to the right, in terms of key issues - any sense?
ALLEN: Well, I think in many ways it is difficult to draw ideological conclusions from this line-up. I mean, on the one hand, you've got a couple of well-known moderates. The new cardinal from New Zealand, for example, is on record favoring allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion, which is a very hot-button issue in Catholicism today. On the other hand, the new cardinal from Ethiopia supported a constitutional measure in that country that would ban homosexuality as a matter of constitutional law.
So I think in terms of the politics of left-right, it's difficult to draw conclusions. I think this is much more about north-south than left-right in trying to make sure that the voices of the global church, particularly, the two-thirds majority of the church today that lives in the global South, are more thoroughly heard in Rome. What those voices are going to say will not always break predictably, according to the terms of American politics.
INSKEEP: We've been talking once again with John Allen. He's an associate editor of the Boston Globe and also of Crux, a website covering Catholic affairs. Thanks very much.
ALLEN: Always a pleasure, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.