ROME – Pope Francis continued reshaping the hierarchy of the Catholic Church on Sunday by appointing his first batch of cardinals with an emphasis on Asia, Africa and Latin America, even as he also made omissions that signal his distaste for the traditional clerical career ladder.
Nine months into his papacy, Francis has sought to shift the tone of the church, with a special focus on helping the poor.
On Sunday, he named cardinals from small, poor countries like Haiti, Burkina Faso, Nicaragua and Ivory Coast.
He also named a second cardinal for the Philippines, a heavily Catholic nation struggling to recover from a devastating typhoon.
“The idea is definitely to move to the south,” said Alberto Melloni, a prominent Vatican historian.
For any pope, appointing cardinals is a chance to shape the direction and future of the universal church, because the 120 members of the College of Cardinals elect new popes. Francis was elected last March after the resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who stepped down amid scandals at the Vatican.
But Francis’ appointments to the college are also part of his larger plans for the church, which include overhauling the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Vatican, and opening a broad debate on the theme of family that could touch on delicate issues like homosexuality and divorce.
The cardinals are expected to meet Feb. 22 at the Vatican for a consistory, a formal meeting, to begin discussions. New cardinals will be formally appointed at that meeting.
For centuries, Europeans, and especially Italians, dominated the College of Cardinals, even as growth in the church shifted to Latin America, Africa and Asia.
This disconnect became glaring during the consistory in February 2012, when more than half of those in attendance were European, even though the numbers in the pews were stagnating across the Continent.
Benedict, who had named a heavy share of Europeans and Italians, responded in his final batch of appointments by choosing cardinals outside the Continent.
Now Francis, who is from Argentina and is the first non-European pope in modern times, has continued that trend and seems likely to keep doing so.
This time, Francis named 16 new cardinals, along with three other emeritus cardinals above the age of 80 (who are not eligible to vote in future conclaves to elect a pope). Of the 16, nine are from the southern hemisphere, six are from Europe (including four from the Roman Curia) and one is from Canada. None are from the United States.
Candida R. Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, called it “noteworthy” that no American cardinals were named but said the United States was already well represented with 11 cardinals.
“The disproportionate representation of wealthy nations in the College of Cardinals is something that Francis is trying to rectify here, in keeping with his general concern for the poor,” she said in an email.
Francis also used his appointments to send unequivocal signals about the curia, the Italian church and the pastoral style he favors. In the past, winning appointment to lead a powerful department in the Roman Curia often meant that the red hat of cardinal would follow.
Francis instead overlooked several department heads. Of the four curial officials he did select, three are allies that he has named to key positions, including Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the second-in-command at the Vatican.
Melloni, the Vatican expert, said Francis also made it plain that the old career track in the Italian church – which has long enjoyed broad influence in the Vatican – no longer applied. Francis did not elevate archbishops in Venice or Turin, even though cardinals have traditionally led both dioceses. Meanwhile, he did name Gualtiero Bassetti from Perugia, a smaller diocese that has not had a cardinal for more than a century.
“He is not bound by the idea that if you are in a certain diocese, it is sure you will be a cardinal soon,” said Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, a liberal Catholic research institute in Bologna. “He is making clear that he does not want to enter or accept any of the mechanisms used before to make careers.”
Vatican experts also noted that Francis favored men who had worked long years as priests before becoming bishops, and who had shown the sort of merciful pastoral style he advocates. And the Vatican also highlighted the selection of Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla as an emeritus cardinal. He is 98, and served as the secretary for Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized by Francis on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.