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Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are expanding their ranks of cardinals who will likely pick a successor

Today, Pope Francis expanded the ranks of churchmen eligible to vote and will be able to choose his successor if necessary.

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On Saturday, Pope Francis elevated 20 more churchmen to the rank of cardinal, formally increasing the number of people who can vote for his successor in the event of his death or resignation.

Sixteen of the men being elevated to the rank of cardinal at today’s consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica are under the age of eighty and therefore can take part in the conclave, the secret meeting of cardinals who use paper ballots to elect the pope.

During a consistory held inside St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, Pope Francis presented the new Cardinal Jorge Enrique Jimenez Carvajal with the red, three-cornered biretta hat. A. Medichini/Andrew

Francis, who is 85 years old, has named 83 of the 132 cardinals eligible to participate in a conclave. Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who unexpectedly resigned in 2013, appointed the other members of the council, which led to Francis’s election.

Francis has named eight sets of cardinals, increasing the likelihood that the next pope will carry on his agenda for the Catholic Church.

Francis emphasized to the cardinals that they must be “open to all peoples, to the horizons of the world, to the peripheries as yet unknown” in order to fulfill their role.

Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, India, is one of the new cardinals, highlighting Francis’s concern for marginalized people. The 60-year-old prelate is the first member of the Dalit community to become a cardinal. The Dalits are at the bottom of India’s caste system.

On Saturday, during the consistory held in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis prayed in front of the new Cardinals. A. Medichini/Andrew

Each new cardinal knelt before Francis as he bestowed upon them the prestigious biretta, or three-peaked hat, a red symbol of the blood they must be prepared to shed if necessary in their mission.

An opportunity to speak privately with Francis presented itself, and he smiled warmly to put their minds at ease. Francis, who had mobility issues, would occasionally use his own arms to help cardinals who were kneeling get to their feet.

Francis bypassed U.S. churchmen leading more prestigious dioceses, such as San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in favor of San Diego Bishop Robert Walter McElroy.

There is a movement to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, but McElroy is one of the minority of American bishops who are opposed to this. After Pelosi’s defense of abortion rights, Cordileone said he would no longer permit her to receive Communion.

In this photo taken on Saturday, following the consistory, Pope Francis is seen waving. A. Medichini/Andrew

Both abortion and what he calls the “weaponization of Communion” have been condemned by Francis, who is a staunch opponent of both.

McElroy signed a statement condemning bullying of LGBTQ youth last year alongside a handful of other U.S. bishops.

Although the Catholic Church condemns same-sex relationships as sinful, Pope Francis has made an effort to ensure that gay Catholics feel at home in the church.

Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Wa, Ghana, is one of the newest cardinals; he has opposed LGBTQ rights. The African prelate felt ill when he arrived in Rome on Friday and was hospitalized for a heart problem, the pope told the other cardinals, requesting their prayers “for this brother who should have been here.”

During the consistory held in St. Peter’s Basilica, new Cardinals take a seat. A. Medichini/Andrew

McElroy told The Associated Press, “there are always cultural differences within the life of the church as there is within in the human family,” in reference to the existence of such divergent opinions among church leaders. Additionally, various societies have various ways of dealing with these issues.

“My own view is that we have an obligation in the church to make the LGBT persons feel equally welcome in the life of the church, as everyone else,” McElroy continued.

McElroy, 68, was asked what he thought of Francis’ statement that resignation for popes is a valid option, given the importance of cardinals in electing future pontiffs.

The U.S. prelate said, “In principle, I think it is a good idea at a particular moment when they feel they can no longer carry the burdens of that office, but I think this pope is far from that moment.” I don’t think he considers himself to be there at this time. He’s got a mobility problem, but it hasn’t affected his mind. Yes, he is still very much in control, as far as I can tell.

On Saturday, Pope Francis presented Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, the newest cardinal, with the red biretta with three points. A. Medichini/Andrew

The Amazon, a vast and environmentally fragile region of South America on the pontiff’s home continent, has produced its first cardinal: Archbishop Ulrich Steiner of Manaus, Brazil. Steiner voiced his concern to The Associated Press about rising levels of violence in the Amazon.

Nonetheless, this violence did not originate there, Steiner, 71, emphasized; rather, it was imported from elsewhere. Money is always a factor in the acts of violence that occur. Including concessions, deforestation, mining, and fishing.

A 48-year-old Italian missionary serves as the youngest cardinal in a country with only about 1,300 practicing Catholics. Giorgio Marengo, the newly appointed cardinal, said that Francis “knows how important supporting these little communities” are.

The pope’s original selection of cardinals numbered 21. However, retired Belgian Bishop Luc Van Looy turned down the honor because of his own incompetent handling of cases involving sexually abusive priests while he was bishop of Ghent (from 2004 to 2020).