College of Cardinals — Representation/Size of Constituency (July 20, 2009)

< Updated on February 8, 2010 .>

When compiling my breakdown of the College of Cardinals I realized that only Italy (with 19) had more electors in the College than the U.S.A. (with 13). I knew that some of the Latin American countries certainly had more Catholics than the U.S. So I did some checking and analysis.

Per the 2008 Annuario Pontificio (Vatican’s ‘Pontifical Handbook’) there are ~1.1 billion Catholics around the World.

Then, I found a convenient breakdown of the number of Catholics per country, albeit as 0f 2005, on Wikipedia (and for this study, this was good enough).

Then, per my wont, I went ahead and set up an Excel spreadsheet so I could do some analysis.

Let us start with Brazil, the country with the largest Catholic population (~137 million). Brazil thus has 12.8% of the World’s Catholics. But Brazil only has 8 cardinals in total in the current College, with 4 under the age of 80 (and thus eligible to vote at a conclave) and 4 that are over 80.

Per my updated posts of July 20, 2009 on the breakdown of the College, we currently have a total of 185 cardinals, 113 under the age of 80. This means that Brazil despite its 12.8% of the worldwide constituents only has a total of 4.3% representation in the College — and only 3.5% of the electors.

Mexico, the country with the 2nd largest Catholic population, is also underrepresented by cardinals. Though Mexico has 7.8% of the world’s Catholics, they also only have 4 electors (i.e., 3.5%).

U.S.A., with ~71 million, has the fourth largest Catholic population, representing 6.6% of the world total. But there are 16 U.S. cardinals, i.e., 8.5%.

So here is a breakdown of the top 9 Catholic countries:


While I still had the spreadsheet up on one of my monitors, I decided I might as well go the extra step and do a few more calculations, especially because I knew the results will surprise a few of you.

Based on the 2005 Catholic population estimates, the breakdown of the Catholics per key ‘regions’ is as follows, with the percentage of cardinal electors for that region shown within (parenthesis):

  • Europe
    (inc. Ukraine, Lituania, the Balkans etc.) – 26% (50%)
  • Latin America – 41% (17%)
  • U.S.A & Canada – 8% (14%)
  • Africa – 12% (8%)
  • Asia – 11% (9%)
  • Oceania – 0.7% (2%)

Church prelates are aware of this ‘population’ breakdown, and have been now for quite awhile. Hence, my pick of Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, a high-profile, 60 year old from Brazil, as my top 2009 pick for papabili.

Hope this helps.

Thank you for your time.

Anura Guruge

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One thought on “College of Cardinals — Representation/Size of Constituency (July 20, 2009)”

  1. Hi, I think your reasoning on Scherer is not so good. The Vatican does not operate on such thinking.If it did you would not have a pole or german at the top.The cardinals select their candidate not on numbers but on quality and that usually means intellectual and spiritual. To be made Pope a cardinal would need a lot of contacts and have somebody big swingning for them in the conclave.Italy and USA have the most cardinals as they have by far the most priests. If Scherer has contacts in the movements and presents a fresh approach and clear thinking then maybe,but Sao Paolo makes no noise in Rome. He seems a run of the mill prelate to me. Bergoglio and Scola are the giants in the college.
    Keep up the good work ,I like to visit your site.

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