Vatican-watchers were surprised when Pope Francis named 14 new cardinals on Sunday. Given that the number of voting cardinals was already near the limit of 120, it was expected that Francis would give out only a handful of red hats – if any – this year. Eleven of the new cardinals are under 80, raising the number of voters to 127. But this is a short-term situation: in 2019 a dozen or so cardinals will turn 80, losing their right to take part in a conclave.

Attention has rightly focused on the four new Rome-based cardinals. The first, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has a rapport with Francis that eluded his predecessor, Cardinal Gerhard Müller (it may help that Ladaria is a Jesuit). An unassuming figure, the new cardinal will now be pushed to the forefront of theological debates.

The second, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, is a skilful curial insider. His official title, substitute for general affairs of the Secretariat of State, doesn’t fully convey his responsibilities. He is in effect the Pope’s chief of staff, involved in everything from China talks to financial reform. Last year Francis named him special delegate to the troubled Order of Malta. He has emerged victorious from a series of bruising curial battles and, as cardinal, will now wield even more power inside the Vatican.

The third is Archbishop Angelo De Donatis. Last year he became the first non-cardinal since the 16th century to be appointed Vicar General of Rome. One of the Pope’s favourite prelates, he preached the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia in 2014 and earlier this year presented the Pope’s exhortation on holiness to the world’s media.

The fourth is papal almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who performs acts of charity on behalf of Francis. When he was appointed in 2013, the Pope told him: “You can sell your desk. You don’t need it … You need to go out and look for the poor.” He slept in his office after giving up his flat for a Syrian refugee family, opened a free laundry for the poor and was recently seen handing out ice cream to the homeless on the Pope’s name day. Aged just 54, he possesses a moral authority that could influence the Church for decades to come.

Two other new cardinals, meanwhile, underline the Pope’s commitment to the persecuted Church: Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako and Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi. The red hat will bolster both men as they defend their embattled communities.

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