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Science Degrees Lacking Among Catholic Cardinals

• March 11, 2013 • 3:06 PM

In terms of their academic pursuits, the cardinals who will choose the next pope are a pretty monolithic bunch. That nugget of insight is courtesy of Anthony Judge, who has created an interesting chart on his website Laetus in Praesens.

In it, he lists all of the current cardinals who are eligible to vote, and the discipline or disciplines they focused on during their years of higher education. The information is from Wikipedia, so it may not be entirely accurate; Judge labels details that haven’t been verified.

The first thing that strikes you is that, in Judge’s words, “very few cardinals have any formal training in the natural sciences.” Among handful of exceptions: The archbishop of Utrecht, the Netherlands, studied medicine; the archbishop of Lima, Peru, studied industrial engineering; the archbishop emeritus of Santiago, Chile, studied mathematics.

The archbishop of Scotland, Keith O’Brien, studied chemistry, science and mathematics, but he recently stepped down in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal and will not participate in the voting.

So what are their degrees in? Theology is the most popular subject by some distance, with philosophy taking a solid second place. Of the handful of other disciplines, only four of the cardinals have studied psychology, and only one economics.

While on one level, this isn’t at all surprising, it’s worth contemplating. These men—and one of them in particular—will be handing down decisions that spell out ethical rules impacting a variety of fields, including medicine. Wouldn’t it be nice if the group included some voices that could explain the latest scientific understanding of the workings of mind and body?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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