Pope Benedict made an interesting comment at the consistory installing 23 new cardinals on Saturday. He warned against “careerism” in the Church and noted that the disciples James and John who asked Jesus to give them seats to the right and left of him in Heaven (Mark 10:37) had “a crude conception of merit.” Here’s his sermon (in Italian). Now, I don’t want to get into a game of “spot the careerist at the Vatican” — others do that well enough — and I don’t want to cast any doubts about the new cardinals or any Vatican officials. But reading through the biographies of the new cardinals, I had a kind of sociological interest in seeing if any single factor stood out in their pasts.
And yes, one did.
About three-quarters of the new cardinals studied at one or more of the pontifical universities in Rome. There are a dozen of these Catholic universities here specialised in theology, canon law, scripture and philosophy, with students from around the world. They used to teach in Latin, but gave that up in 1967. Most of the students are bright young seminarians sent over to Rome because their superiors spotted their potential. Others are ordained priests doing graduate work, again often sent by bishops with an eye for talent. While they’re here, they not only study, they see how the Vatican works, make contacts among professors, Vatican officials and other students and they learn Italian, an advantage for any cleric on his way up the career ladder.
The numbers said a lot. Of the Europeans who got the red hat, 7 had studied in Rome and 5 had not. That’s not so surprising, since Catholic universities in Spain or France or Belgium can provide just as good an education (if not better, some say). But among the non-Europeans, there was no contest. Ten had a Roman degree and only one didn’t.
So clerics should not be careerists … but one who wants to start his career the right way might be advised to do it in Rome.