Pope Benedict XVI has inducted 22 new Catholic churchmen into the elite club of cardinals who will elect his successor amid signs the 84-year-old pontiff is slowing down.
Benedict presided over the ceremony Saturday in St. Peter's Basilica to formally create the new cardinals, who include the archbishops of New York, Prague, Berlin, Hong Kong and Florence, Italy, as well as the heads of some key Vatican offices.
Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins was also among those who were officially elevated to the new role. Collins, 65, was ordained as a priest in 1973 and appointed archbishop of Toronto in 2007.Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to preside over a consistory in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)
Cardinals are the Pope's closest aides, but only those under age 80 can take part in the election of a new pope after the death of Benedict, who turns 85 in April.
The weekend ceremony leaves the church with 214 cardinals — 125 now eligible to vote in a papal election, a number that increased by 18 with Saturday's ceremony, known as a consistory.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty led an official Canadian government delegation attending the ceremony.
Collins, who was born in Guelph, Ont., is now the 16th Canadian cardinal in the history of the church. Only two other Canadian cardinals are alive — Marc Ouellet of Quebec City and Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal.
Pledge to keep church secrets
Preparations for the ceremony were clouded by embarrassing 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 weak pontiff, are already preparing for a conclave.
"In the past month there have been a number of leaks of Vatican documents by different sources," freelance journalist Megan Williams told CBC News. "One of the more alarmist ones is a document saying that the Pope would be assassinated within the next year."
Italian media carried reports saying a cardinal wrote a secret note to a superior in the Vatican that he had heard about a plot to kill the Pope. The Vatican dismissed those reports as "delirious."
None of the reported tension at the Vatican was on display Saturday, however, amid the pomp of the consistory.
That said, each of the new cardinals did make a solemn pledge to keep church secrets upon accepting their new title, ring and three-pointed red hat, or biretta, from the Pope.
Reciting the cardinals' traditional oath of loyalty, each one pledged to remain faithful to the church and to "not to make known to anyone matters entrusted to me in confidence, the disclosure of which could bring damage or dishonour to Holy Church."