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February 3, 2014

Every pope puts his personal stamp on the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis has done that more than most with his first appointments announced Jan. 12.

In two ways, the appointments were traditional. The pope named the usual coterie of cardinals from both Italy and the Vatican Curia. Some had suspected that he might move significantly away from those two longstanding sources of cardinals, especially in terms of drawing a line between the Curia and the College of Cardinals.

While that prediction was not borne out, the appointments did represent a shift toward the grossly under-represented global South.

In particular, the pope chose cardinals from three of the world's poorest nations – Haiti, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. If that trend continues, the voices of the poor will be heard more at the next conclave. That movement in the centre of gravity at the conclave could cause yet another ecclesial earthquake.

Also significant was the pope overlooking dioceses which are traditional sources of cardinals – Turin, Venice, Detroit, Baltimore and Cebu, Philippines. Instead, he chose some men from less prominent dioceses.

It would seem those cardinals were chosen because of who they are rather than where they live. If so, this could change the process of appointing, not only cardinals, but also diocesan bishops. No longer will an outstanding bishop have to be moved to a prominent diocese so he can receive a red hat.

The resulting increase in stability would be good for smaller dioceses whose promising prelates are often spirited away to other duties or larger dioceses. Think, for example, of the Diocese of St. Paul which has lost two local bishops after brief stints who eventually became cardinals- Edouard Gagnon and Thomas Collins.

The traditional theology of a bishop being married to his diocese has been honoured as much in the breech as in the observance. That could change.

Pope Francis told the new cardinals their appointment "does not signify a promotion, an honour or a decoration." Yet, for those cardinals named when they were over 80, it clearly is an honour with no expectation of added duties.

So too for those cardinals plucked from relatively obscure dioceses. The pope has said in effect that they not only have gifts for use in the narrow range of cardinatial activities, but that they possess a special worthiness. They were not chosen randomly.

Nevertheless, the pope has moved the College of Cardinals one step further away from the outdated notion that it is the body of "princes of the Church." We don't need princes choosing the pope – the college's main responsibility – we need pastors. If this pontificate lasts a decade or more – and we hope it does – this type of appointment will lead us toward a very different kind of Church.