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D.C.'s Wuerl among 24 new cardinals named by Pope Benedict
"Once they get hit with that red, they go global," Philadelphia-based Vatican-watcher Rocco Palmo said of becoming a cardinal and receiving the traditional red biretta, the square cap with three ridges or peaks worn by cardinals and other clerics. "You can be archbishop of a major city, but being made cardinal is your coming-out globally."
Benedict has called two previous consistories since he became pope in 2005. He has picked nearly half of the current cardinals, and soon will have personally chosen more than two-thirds of those who will be charged with electing his successor.
Once the consistory takes place there will be 203 sitting cardinals, 121 of whom are under 80 and can vote. In the first few months of 2011, five more cardinals will turn 80, including Baltimore's William Keeler and Bernard Law, who resigned from the Boston archdiocese in 2002 in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Four of those chosen Wednesday are already 80 or older, meaning they cannot vote on papal matters but are being accorded the title as a special honor.
Wuerl said he believes that his class of cardinals and the next pope would prioritize what he called "the new evangelization" of the Western world, a place he described as distracted from God by technology, secularism and a furious cultural pace.
"This is the effort to re-propose the faith to people who have heard it and drifted away," Wuerl said Wednesday. He described the approach as "very different" from past priorities, such as missionary activity and building institutions.
There are more than 5,000 bishops around the globe. Many of those who Benedict chose to elevate are, like him, strongly traditional people who see debates about hot-button subjects such as female or married clergy or same-sex relationships as slippery slopes to relativism.
The pope lauds doctrinal expertise above almost everything; even his top diplomat - Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone - is a theologian who had no previous diplomatic expertise.
However, the pope has urged clergy to be respectful and engaged with other faiths, including Islam.
"For this pope, the catchword will always be truth, but he is very concerned that what we say as Catholics resonates with people of good will," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of religious studies and theology at the Catholic University of America. "Dialogue, doctrinal clarity and respect."
Wuerl is seen as a typical example of that type of engaged conservative, experts said. He organized Benedict's 2008 visit to Washington - and was credited with its perceived success. The visit included a Mass filled with multicultural music and a blend of worship styles that some traditionalists objected to but other worshipers loved.
Wuerl is well known for refusing to deny communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Wuerl says he cannot deny the sacrament to a willing participant, because he cannot know what is inside a person's heart when he or she shares private worship with God.