Archbishop Connell created Cardinal at Vatican ceremony

Wednesday 21 February 2001 22.09

Archbishop Desmond Connell has been created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Eleven members of his family and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, were in the congregation in the Vatican as he received a red hat, symbolising the office, from the Pope. A total of 44 new Cardinals were inducted at the ceremony. The new appointments increase the size of the College of Cardinals to 184, although only 135 will be eligible on the grounds of age to elect the Pope's successor.

An estimated 40,000 people turned out in brilliant sunshine in the Vatican to witness the consistory. It is the eighth time Pope John Paul has created cardinals, and the new red hats swell their ranks to record numbers. The decision to create the Archbishop of Dublin a Cardinal is a departure from the tradition of appointing the Archbishop of Armagh.

During the ceremony, the new cardinals swore an oath of allegiance, and were given the red hat which symbolises their office. Besides Dr Connell, other appointees of Irish interest were the Archbishop of Westminster, Dr Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, whose parents came from Ireland. The Archbishop of New York, Edward Michael Egan, is also of Irish descent.

But the appointments further widen the college of cardinals from its Italian-dominated base. They still make up about one fifth of the college but with the new appointments, Latin American cardinals will now outnumber their Italian counterparts. This is significant because it is those cardinals aged under 80 who make up the college of cardinals, which will ultimately elect Pope John Paul's successor. There are 135 of them - the largest number ever.

The current Pontiff has appointed nearly all of them. This makes it more likely that he will be followed by a theological conservative in his own image. With Europeans now in the minority in the college, his successor could well come from a developing country. One exception to the appointment of conservative churchmen was Bishop Karl Lehman of Mainz in Germany. Not only has he expressed liberal views, he made the headlines last year when he spoke of the possibility of Pope John Paul retiring on health grounds. Tomorrow, the new cardinals will be given their rings, and there will be concelebrated mass.