Pope Benedict XVI named 24 new cardinals Wednesday, putting his mark on the body that will elect his successor and giving a boost to Italian hopes to regain the papacy.
Among the new cardinals are two Americans and prelates from key posts in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Benedict said the new "princes of the church" will be formally elevated at a ceremony in Rome on Nov. 20, making the announcement "with joy" at the end of his weekly public audience.
The new cardinals include Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Archbishop Raymond Burke, an American who leads the Vatican's supreme court and has been sharply critical of the U.S. Democratic Party for its support of abortion rights.
Other key posts include Warsaw, Poland; Munich; Kinshasa, Congo; Quito, Equador; Aparecida, Brazil; Lusaka, Zambia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; and the leader in Egypt of the Catholic Coptic church, who is currently heading a Vatican meeting on the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Many of the new cardinals head Vatican offices, including Archbishop Kurt Koch, a Swiss in charge of the Vatican's relations with other Christians and Jews.
Cardinals are close advisers to a pope, but their key job is to elect the pontiff.
With the installation of the new cardinals, Benedict in just five years has named nearly half of the 120 prelates under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave following the death of a pope.
Eight of the new cardinals under 80 are Italians, giving them a total of 25 _ nearly half of the Europeans in the electing body of the College of Cardinals.
Italians held the papacy for 455 years until the election of Poland's John Paul II in 1978, followed by the German-born Benedict in 2005.
"The preponderance of Italians would suggest the scale has tipped in favor of an Italian candidate for the next conclave," said Gerard O'Connell, a veteran Irish Vatican correspondent.
With the church rocked by a global clerical sex abuse crisis, Benedict named as cardinal in Munich, his former diocese, Archbishop Reinhard Marx, who has been prominent in efforts to clean up the scandal in Germany. The 57-year-old Marx, the youngest of the new cardinals, was behind efforts to force out a bishop accused of physical abuse of children.
"To be a cardinal in these times is also a great challenge," Marx said in a statement. "The tremors of the last few months must become the point of departure for a spiritual deepening of our faith and a new courage to evangelize inside and outside" the church, he added in a reference to the scandal.
However, the pope passed up giving a cardinal's red hat to Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has been the Irish church's leading advocate for Catholic openness in its child-abuse scandals.
Also passed over was New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who has headed the diocese since 2009, when he succeeded Cardinal Edward Egan.
With the new appointments, Europe retains its edge in the College of Cardinals. Ten of the new cardinals hold posts in the Curia, the church's administrative body at the Vatican.
However, the pope named cardinals in such key posts as Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, a major Catholic country in Africa. The new cardinal is Archbishop Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Daniela Petroff at the Vatican contributed to this report.