Who’s the star when the Vatican distributes new red hats?
For a journalist writing about the Vatican, whenever the pope names new cardinals, the eternal question returns — what’s the lead of the story? Who is the most important new member of the College of Cardinals , the elite “club” of men who advise the pope and who — if they are under 80 — can enter a conclave to elect his successor.
It’s less of a problem if you’re writing for a national newspaper or a specific audience. If your news organisation is American, you can lead off with the Americans. If it’s Italian, you shine the spotlight on the Italians. If you’re French, you glorify the French, and so it goes.
Writing for an international news organisation like Reuters has always posed some difficulties with such stories.
So, when Pope Benedict named 23 new cardinals on Wednesday, the quandary was there again. After the short urgent stories merely reporting that the cardinals had been named — a sort of numbers game — we decided to give the story a global flair, but at the same time shine light on the appointment of Emmanuel III Delly, an Iraqi who is Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.
Although he has just turned 80 and so would not be able to enter a conclave, the honour given to Delly by raising him to the elite ranks of the Church appeared to be a gesture by the pope to support the Christian minority in Iraq and the Middle East. Benedict has often lamented the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East and has supported efforts to improve their lot in a state of war. Delly has frequently warned that the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, could soon be emptied of its Christians because so many were emigrating to escape the violence there.
Also interesting — and surprising — was the naming of Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in Texas. As some observers such as John Allen of the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter pointed out, the appointment seemed to be a recognition that the Catholic population in the United States has been shifting from the East to the Southwest, reflecting changes in immigration patterns and the growing Hispanic population.
The other American to get the red hat was Archbishop John Foley, one of the most well-known figures in Rome. Foley is perhaps one of the most media-friendly people in the Vatican. For many years he headed the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and was a godsend to many visiting journalists. Foley, a Philadelphian who once worked as a journalist himself, explained the “mysteries” of the Vatican to many who came to Rome for brief assignments, such as to cover the death of John Paul and Benedict’s own election in 2005. Foley’s name was mentioned often as a candidate for the red hat in the past but for some reason he was always passed over. He reacted to his nomination this way in an interview with Vatican Radio.