VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict put his stamp on the future of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday by naming 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under 80 and thus eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect his successor.
The 20 new “cardinal electors” come from Italy, Poland, Egypt, the United States, Germany, Zambia, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Sri lanka.
Eleven of the new electors are European, 8 of them Italian, giving Europeans a small majority in an eventual conclave.
The German pope has now named about 50 of the 120 electors who can pick his successor from among their own ranks, raising the possibility that the next pontiff will be a conservative in Benedict's own image. More than 60 of them are Europeans.
Many of the appointments were expected, including Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C., Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw and Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil.
A number of appointments were to run Vatican departments. These included American Archbishop Raymond Burke, who heads a top Vatican tribunal, and Kurt Koch, the Swiss head of the Vatican department on relations with other Christian religions and Jews.
Most of the new appointments were believed to be conservatives, increasing the possibility that the next pope will hold views similar to Benedict's on burning church issues such as birth control, women priests and the married priesthood, all of which he rejects.
Each time a pope names new cardinals — his elite group of advisers in the Vatican and around the world — it gives him a chance to steer the church's future course by choosing men who will help him formulate policies and make major decisions.
The pope made the announcement at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. It was only the third time since his election that the pope has named new cardinals.
Benedict said his choice reflects “the universality of the Church”. The ceremony to formally install them, known as a consistory, will be held on Nov. 20, he said.
The number of cardinal electors is limited to 120 while there is no limit to the total number in the entire College of Cardinals, which will stand at 203 after the new cardinals receive their red hat next month.
While previous popes have enlarged the number of cardinal electors from the developing world, Benedict has named many Europeans since his election.
This increases the likelihood that the next pope will be European. The second largest voting bloc in the college are the Latin Americans, who have more than 20 cardinals.