An Evolving Power Structure

Collegiality characterized the Church of Peter and his successors for over one thousand years. This meant that bishops, including the Bishop of Rome—the Pope—were elected by the clerics and by the people through regional or national synods. In the early Church, the rank of Cardinal (which, like the Pope, is simply a bishop) was partly administrative and largely honorific. Papal election by a College of Cardinals, the current practice, did not begin until the twelfth century. Initially the College of Cardinals was constituted as follows:

25 priests in charge of Roman churches (ordine dei preti); 13 (later 19) deacons from Rome and vicinity (ordine dei diaconi); 7 bishops of dioceses close to Rome (ordine dei vescovi).

Also, in the twelfth century additional cardinals, from more distant lands, were added; but in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the number of cardinal electors seldom exceeded thirty because vacancies often remained unfilled.39 A maximum number of cardinals was set at seventy by Pope Sixtus V in 1586. It was a limit that was not exceeded until the reigns of John XXIII and Paul VI, who vastly enlarged the active number of cardinals in the late 1950s and mid-1960s.

In examining the rule change in penance, it is important to note that with the exception of critical "matters of faith and morals,'' the Pope seldom reaches decisions without the advice and consent of the senate of cardinals (and/or its subset, the curia). It is important to understand that a large part of the Second Vatican Council was aimed at "internationalizing" the Church. That internationalization of church administration begun by Pope John XXIII was continued by his successor Paul VI, who ascended to the Papal throne at John's death in 1963. This movement included reform of the College of Cardinals and the curia and changes in the composition of the world's cardinals. Table 4.1, derived from the official Papal Annual, shows these changes between 1951 (during the pontificate of Pius XII) and 1966. During this fifteen-year period, the total membership in the College increased from fifty-two in 1951 to ninety-nine in 1966—far in excess of the maximum of seventy established in 1586. The "open window'' of John XXIII and Paul VI resulted in an expansion in the total number of cardinals to 145 by 1973 (a trend of expansion that was continued by Pope John Paul II).

By the time of Paul VI's decision, the actual number of cardinals rose by forty-seven between 1951 and 1966 and by twenty-two in one year, 1965-1966. Membership from the third-world countries tripled between 1951 and 1966, with a full seventeen of these new third-world cardinal-ates being appointed between 1958 and 1965 by John XXIII and Paul VI. Of these third-world cardinals, eleven came from South and Central America and Africa.

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