Pope Benedict installs first group of new cardinals
Vatican City, Mar 24: Pope Benedict installs his first group of new cardinals today (Mar 24, 2006), elevating a familiar face and some surprising choices to the exclusive Roman Catholic club that advises him and will one day elect his successor.
Twelve of the 15 men are under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to choose a pope. They are mostly from Europe, Asia and the United States instead of the Latin American and African regions often seen as key to the 1.1-billion-strong Church's future.
Benedict, only four weeks away from his first anniversary as Pope, seems to have sent few signals with his appointments than the message that he judges cardinals more on their merits than on considerations of balancing regions, observers say.
The best-known face will be Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwicz, 66, who was at the late Pope John Paul's side during 26 years as his faithful private secretary and one of the most influential men in the Vatican.
The most senior will be William Levada, 69, the former archbishop of San Francisco who shot to prominence last May when Benedict unexpectedly appointed him to take his place as head of the Vatican's powerful doctrinal department.
Politically the most interesting is Hong Kong's Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, an outspoken supporter of democracy and critic of Beijing's restrictive religious policies.
The Vatican and Beijing have been cautiously improving their long-strained ties, but Benedict clearly did not let concern about upsetting China get in his way of appointing Zen.
The Pope, whose German homeland was divided into democratic and communist zones for 40 years, will also promote Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, archbishop of the South Korean capital Seoul and Church administrator for Pyongyang in communist North Korea.
Relations with Islam
Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who took over in Boston in 2003 to clean up after a clerical sexual abuse scandal forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign, will be the second American receiving his red cardinal's hat at a ceremony in St Peter's Square.
Putting his own stamp on contacts with his aides, Benedict sat with his present and future cardinals yesterday for an open discussion of pressing issues including relations with Islam and schismatic Catholic traditionalists.
The meeting, which some cardinals praised as more open than the scripted sessions under the Pope John Paul, involved more than 150 men who are already cardinals and the 15 men to receive their red hats today.
Cardinals emerging from the day-long meeting said several fellow ''princes of the Church'' expressed concern about Islam and the state of human rights in Muslim countries.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney said there was no mood of crisis in relations with Islam but the Church should ''obviously support all those moderate forces everywhere around the world who are happy to talk and work for the common good''.
The main topic at the morning session was how to bring an ultra-traditionalist Catholic movement known as the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back into the Church. The Vatican would like to heal the 17-year-old rift but cardinals said problems remained.
The SSPX sticks to the old Latin Mass and rejects many of the reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, especially the new respect it brought for other religions.
After today's ceremony, known as a consistory, the Church will have a total of 193 cardinals, 120 of them under 80.