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Although with 117 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will be nearly at its maximum of 120, there are some striking gaps in the roster. Pope Benedict XVI created 90 cardinals in 5 consistories, and although it seems that his abdication was conceived many months ago, he left some countries rather unrepresented.
From northwestern Europe come eight cardinals, one each from the Netherlands and Belgium, and six from Germany. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. But when we look further afield, we see that some of the major players are missing.
In the United Kingdom, only the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien takes part in the conclave: the archbishop of Westminster is not a cardinal. In the Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is not a part of the proceedings. His predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (pictured), turns 80 two days before the sede vacante begins and this can’t take part in the conclave. In Africa, the major Catholic countries of Angola and Mozambique have no cardinal electors. And in the Curia, finally, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller has no red hat either.
Is this something to be concerned about, then? Not really. The College of Cardinals is not in the first place intended as an accurate representation of the world Church, although there are merits to drawing from the various cultures and nationalities that compose the Church. But it is striking that, although some of the prelates mentioned above were appointed only fairly recently, the Holy Father chose not to include them in the most recent consistory, although at that time he must have had some idea that a conclave would be coming up. An oversight, or a conscious choice? Or a simple case of wanting to adhere to the rule that said that there can be no more than 120 cardinal electors?
Whatever the reason, the cardinals who will elect a new Pope in March are a reflection of the world Church in one respect: they are just as human as all of us, and from their ranks will come a Supreme Pontiff who is, in that respect, one of us.