Sources claim that Pope Benedict decided nearly a year ago, following his visits to Mexico and Cuba, that his health was preventing him from fulfilling his duties and that he would resign.
Just six months ago, in November, Benedict conferred red hats on six men, all under age 80 and thus eligible to serve as cardinal electors. So if the source is correct, Benedict knew that he was adding to the crop of Cardinals who would choose his successor in just a few months after his abdication. What, if anything, can we read from this?
All six were non-Europeans, coming from the US, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Lebanon, and Colombia.
Did this selection hint that Benedict wants to see a non-European succeed him? Probably not. One of his central goals was to reawaken Europe’s Christian imagination, (I’ll leave the task of evaluating his success to others) so it’s difficult to imagine that he’d stack the decks with non-Europeans to affect the outcome. Also, last February, Benedict elevated 22 new Cardinals, with only one from Latin America and none from Africa. Europeans still form the largest bloc of electors, with nearly half of the 117 eligible electors. Even if two of the Italian Cardinals, with March birthdays, are over 80 by the time the conclave elects a new Pope, Europeans will still control much of the show.
Some speculated that the November consistory was to address concerns that the Pope was not addressing the needs of the developing world. Regardless, it is intriguing to wonder what was going through Benedict’s mind in November, when he had apparently already decided on his plans to step down, as he brought six new men into the circle that would choose his successor.
Read: a full list of eligible cardinal electors.