Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday brought 22 Catholic churchmen into the elite club of cardinals who will elect his successor, cementing the Italian majority in a future conclave but also giving New York's garrulous archbishop a position of prominence.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, 62, emerged as something of the star of the consistory, delivering a highly praised speech on spreading the faith and mentioned in some Italian media as an improbable "papabile," or having the qualities of a future pope.
Traditionally Americans are ruled out as papal contenders, with the argument that the world doesn't need a superpower pope. But Dolan's joyful demeanor seemed to have struck a chord in a Vatican that has been anything but joyful over a rash of news reports about political infighting and financial mismanagement.
"He certainly is going to be given many responsibilities as a cardinal," said the other American who got a red hat Saturday, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, the outgoing archbishop of Baltimore. Asked if he thought Dolan had the stuff to be pope,O'Brien deadpanned: "His mother thinks so."
Dolan artfully dodged the question when asked about the speculation Saturday by a gaggle of reporters who traveled from the United States for the ceremony: "Io non parlo inglese," he said. ("I don't speak English.")
In all, 22 churchmen got their red hats Saturday, including the archbishops of Prague, Toronto, Florence, Utrecht and Hong Kong as well as the heads of several Vatican offices.
The only other American elevated Saturday was former Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, 73, a Bronx native.
Seven of the 22 were Italian, adding to the eight voting-age Italian cardinals named at the last consistory in November 2010. As of Saturday, Italy will have 30 cardinals out of the 125 under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a future conclave.
That boosts Italy's chances of taking back the papacy for one of its own following decades under a Polish and a German pope -- or at least playing the kingmaker role if an Italian candidate doesn't emerge.
Only the United States comes close, with 12 cardinals under 80.
"The new cardinals are entrusted with the service of love: love for God, love for his church, an absolute and unconditional love for his brothers and sisters even unto shedding their blood, if necessary," Benedict said at the service.
It was a similar theme Dolan touched on in his keynote speech to cardinals and the pope on Friday, which was peppered with jokes, references to books, films and his own experiences as archbishop in New York, Milwaukee and as rector of the U.S. seminary in Rome.
Preparations for the ceremony were clouded by leaks of internal documents alleging financial mismanagement in Vatican affairs, and reports in the Italian media of political jockeying among church officials who, sensing an increasingly aging pontiff, are already preparing for a conclave.
None of that was on display Saturday, however, amid the pomp of the consistory that brought to 213 the overall size of the College of Cardinals, including the four over-80 cardinals who were honored in recognition of their long service the church.
Meanwhile, Benedict has set Oct. 12 as the date to make two U.S. saints, both with upstate New York connections: Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian who spent most of her life in the Mohawk Valley of New York, and Mother Marianne Cope, who began religious life in the Syracuse area but moved to Hawaii to care for leprosy patients.
Benedict had already approved miracles attributed to the two, the final step toward sainthood.
Dolan marveled that his first official act as a cardinal was to formally OK the New York-area saints. He quipped: "As grateful as I am for being a cardinal, I really want to be a saint."