With twenty new cardinals, Pope Francis has redesigned further the profile of the College of Cardinals. Anyone who thinks that the only cardinals of import are those who ultimately will be voting in a Conclave is wrong. Pope Francis’ vision seems to be short-term. The need to make reforms, both in pastoral and, eventually, in doctrinal matters, requires that he form a hard core of individuals who will support those reforms in the meetings that he often convenes, as if he wishes to keep the Church in a state of permanent synod. Given that the Pope even convokes consistories to discuss hot issues in the life of the Chuch, every red hatcarries its own weight, no matter the age of the Cardinal who wears it.

To get a better idea of this ‘state of permanent synod’, we should look at the February schedule in the Vatican. The twenty new cardinals will be created at the end of two days of consistory, scheduled on February 14-15. This consistory will follow an ordinary consistory – scheduled for February 12-13 – to discuss curial reform. This discussion will follow the 8th meeting of the Council of Cardinals, scheduled for February 9-11. And on February 8-10, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors will meet for the first time with all the members present, and will probably approve its statutes.

So, the new cardinals will be created at the end of ten days of intense meetings and discussions. How these new cardinals will change the balance of the discussions is yet to be determined. Certainly, their selection tells much about Pope Francis’ modus operandi.

The most significant factor to note is the Pope’s continued attention toward the world’s peripheries. The presence of cardinals hailing from Tonga and Paranà represents a geographical surprise. Europe has only four new Cardinals: two Italians, Archbishops Menichelli and Montenegro, who administer mid-sized archdioceses, respectively Ancona-Osimo and Agrigento (this latter includes the island of Lampedusa, asylum for immigrants from the Mediterranean basin and scene of Pope Francis’ first trip outside Rome);  Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference; and the Patriarch of Lisbon José Macario do Nascimento Clemente. Asia is awarded a Cardinal from Myanmar (during the year Myanmar will be honored with the beatification of its first native martyrs); a Cardinal from Thailand, whose appointment was expected; and a Cardinal from Vietnam, where Pope Francis has reaped the fruits of flourishing bilateral diplomatic relations thanks to efforts initially undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI. Africa’s Cardinal is Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, who ranked third on the papal list of new cardinals.

All of these choices demonstrate the Pope’s wish to fashion a College of Cardinals that is continually less ‘curial’ (i.e., it is made up of ever diminishing numbers of members from the Roman Curia), while at the same time steadily growing in numbers of shepherds with the “smell of the sheep”. This tendency is further enriched by the Pope’s wish to surprise, since he loves to make unexpected and unprecedented choices. During the last consistory the surprise pick was that of a bishop from Haiti.

The second theme that runs through the choices of new cardinals is that many of them took the floor during the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. For example, Archbishop Menichelli is reported to have sided with Cardinal Kasper during the Synod’s discussions. However, this rumor cannot be taken for granted, because the texts of the Synod Fathers interventions have not been made public. Likewise, during the Synod, Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, was a member of the English small group led by Cardinal George Pell. Pell’s group emerged as one of the strongest in defending the Church’s tradition. So, the choice of Archibishop Dew may signal the influence of Cardinal Pell, who is now in charge of the Secretariat for the Economy. On the other hand, Cardinal Pell’s successor as Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher, did not get a red hat, despite having his predecessor’s patronage.

This last detail may reveal a third theme in the next Consistory, one indicating that Pope Francis operates with a traditional rationale even when he innovates: he seems not to award red hats to bishops if their predecessors are Cardinals who are still living. This is probably why Pope Francis did not give a red hat to the new Archbishop of Madrid, Osoro Sierra, who is nicknamed ‘little Francis’ after the Pope, and who promises to take a different line in the diocese from that of his predecessor, the cultural warrior Rouco Varela. In Brussels, Archbishop André Joseph Leonard was not included in the list of new cardinals, since his predecessor Godfried Daneels is still alive.  In Venice, Patriarch Francesco Moraglia still waits for the red hat, likely because his predecessor, Angelo Scola, now Archbishop of Milan, is a Cardinal. This last choice is striking, since the other western patriarch, of Lisbon, occupies second place in Pope Francis’ list. For this same reason, Archbishop Fisher would not have made the cut, because his predecessor, Cardinal Pell, is still alive.

What contribution are the new cardinals called on to make? Speaking broadly, to support Pope Francis’ commitment to reforms. This commitment has been impeded twice during the last months. The first interruption occurred during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family which saw a large majority of bishops favoring a reform in pastoral practice – one that they had often already put into action – and yet at the same time saw bishops who defended doctrinal tradition. The second interruption concerns curial reform. At a meeting of Vatican departmental heads held on November 24 the outline of reforms that was presented was substantially rejected. The Cardinals who act as curial departmental heads strongly criticized the proposals drafted by the Council of Cardinals. The proposals have yet to be implemented.

This is probably the reason that Pope Francis has focused the upcoming consistory around a single topic – curial reform – in a manner similar to the way he focused last year’s consistory on the family.

But unlike the 2014 consistory – when Cardinal Kasper’s lecture was criticized – the weight in this gathering will shift away from the residential cardinals. The Curia seems to have been sidelined; in fact the only pick from the Curia in the coming Consistory – one that was required – is that of Domnique Mamberti, former Vatican “minister for Foreign Affairs” and the Pope’s choice as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

It is striking that Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, felt he had to issue a statement to explain Pope Francis’ choices, as though he felt constrained to forestall questions and debate over them. These choices were made following a criterion, even if it is somewhat different than usual: to give more weight to the peripheries, and less to a Curia that Pope Francis sees as intolerant, even critical to his views, even when his critics are moved out of respect and loyalty to the Pope.

Not by chance, while meeting the Curia for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings, Pope Francis listed 15 curial sins, and he reiterated once more the concept of papal primacy. Among the 15 sins, he listed gossip. But gossip is a double-edged sword in Francis’ world: those who use it for self-promotion find themselves out in the cold. 

Among the latter may be Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto. Secretary of the Extraordinary Synod and, according to some observers, drafter of Pope Francis’ closing address to the Synod,  Archbishop Forte is not among the new cardinals. It was expected that he would be appointed Archbishop of Bologna, but both the Archbishop Emeritus, Cardinal Biffi, and the current Archbishop, Carlo Caffarra, opposed his appointment. After that, it was rumored that he would be immediately appointed Archbishop of Palermo. But these rumors were not borne out. Archbishop Forte denied he had heard any rumors concerning his own promotion, but the impression is, on the contrary, that he was a source of the rumor. So his strategy did not work. His case is reminiscent of something that happened to Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, Secretary of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs. He was a rising star of the first half of Pope Francis’ pontificate, but his fortunes fell when he claimed he was going to be appointed a member of the planned Secretariat for the Economy.

Pope Francis does not like it when his plans are made public. It is striking that no leaks came out about the new cardinals: this is a sign that Pope Francis had these appointments under tight wraps. During the Christmas holidays, beyond his routine appearances Pope Francis remained oddly silent while drafting the list of new red hats. 

The list is surprising for another reason: there are no Cardinals from the United States, neither Blaise Cupich, Pope Francis’ appointee as Archbishop of Chicago, who is deemed a moderate in stark contrast from the ‘cultural warrior’ type that secular media have designated for American bishops, nor Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, who will host the next World Day of Families, nor José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, an archdiocese of huge importance.

In fact, all of their predecessors are still living, and so Pope Francis’ have followed the rationale of not awarding with a red hat bishops whose predecessors are Cardinal are still living. On the other hand, the choice may be read as a slap to American bishops, who stood strongly in favor of tradition during the 2014 Synod of Bishops and who will likely do so again in the 2015 Synod. In November the US Bishops’ Conference chose its delegates for the upcoming Synod: Cardinal Di Nardo and Archbishops of Galveston-Houston and Archbishops Chaput of Philadelphia, Gomez of Los Angeles and Kurtz of Louisville. None of them adheres to the ‘Kasper theory’ strongly supported by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and by Archbishop Forte. If this interpretation is true, it signals that the behind the scenes battle over the next Synod has already begun, and that it will be fierce. 

Thus, the Synod and curial reform probably provided the main criteria that Pope Francis followed in choosing recipients for the new red hats, and the focus on the peripheries seems to have functioned in support of this criteria.

Certainly, under Pope Francis there are no class A and class B dioceses or curial posts entitled to a Cardinal’s hat.

However, more than thinking about an eventual Conclave or a future plan for the Church, Pope Francis seems instead to be thinking in more immediate terms. He was elected with the mandate to carry out reforms, as he admitted in an interview to the Italian newspaper ‘Il Messaggero’. And he tries to fulfill his mandate, both in pastoral and structural terms.

There is, then. another theme that emerges from Pope Francis’ picks: that of the Cardinals’ pre-Conclave meetings. Bishops from the peripheries insisted that the Roman Curia had to be dismantled, and that power in the Church should not be so centralized. They also stressed the need for more pastoral care and less doctrinal concern. Pope Francis was expression of this view. As the Pope said during a visit to a Roman parish, the world is better seen from the peripheries.

Under Pope Francis, the peripheries are taking on the role of principal players in the College of Cardinals. Step by step they will take the lead in decision-making. Nevertheless, it is curious that is was precisely the peripheries – East Europe and Africa – who stood with Rome and with doctrinal orthodoxy during the 2014 Synod. Will Pope Francis hear their voice? 

15 Responses to Consistory 2015: Pope Francis’ Spirit

  1. Johannes de Silentio scrive:

    “[Pope Francis] seems not to award red hats to bishops if their predecessors are Cardinals who are still living.”

    How, then, to explain the case of Cardinal Vincent Nichols?

    • The rule has been strictly followed this consistory. It was not followed so strictly during the last consistory. For every rationale, there are exceptions. If you’d ask me the reason why of the exception, I would respond that only Pope can know…

      • Johannes de Silentio scrive:

        Thank you for your reply. Is it not the case that cardinal-elect Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington has a cardinal predecessor (Thomas Williams) who is still alive? The notion that the Pope has endeavored to refrain from awarding red hats to bishops if their predecessors are Cardinals who are still living seems to me simply incorrect. The Scola-Moraglia example does not even make sense given that Scola was promoted to a different see. Rather, it seems to me that the Pope is, as you otherwise note, elevating those who will endorse the subversion of Catholic doctrine as it pertains to the divorced and civilly remarried (something Archbishop Dew called for way back in 2005) and refraining from elevating those who would certainly oppose him, such as Moraglia and Leonard (who did, in fact, oppose him at the 2014 Synod). Pope Francis has every right to do so, but we should be clear-eyed about what is going on.

        • I see your point. Dew is another exception. My analysis is quite clear: the Pope uses a traditional rationale even when he wants to innovate. Obviously, he uses the rational at his convenience. Even if he does not promote people who opposed him, for example at the Synod, he does not basing on non-written rules that have something to do with tradition… and he has the right to interpret them the way he wishes. So, there is a rationale and some exceptions, according to convenience. I think that this well fit to Pope Francis way of making decisions.


  2. Chris Rawlings scrive:

    The problem is that the new cardinals are not a philosophically homogeneous group from what I can tell. If the Pope wanted to rebuke American opposition to the changes proposed at the synod, why not give a red hat to a U.S. bishop who does support them? The point is that there may be easier ways of “stacking the deck” than this. I think your analysis that the Pope is trying to ram through doctrinal changes is awfully presumptuous. Even if he did want them, it is clear that the opposition is probably too significant to make them happen without causing a serious fissure in the hierarchy.

    Perhaps the Pope really does want to spread the voting power in conclaves to other parts of the world.

    • It can be that the Pope just want to spread the voting power: when writing an analysis, you are always subjected to some possible bias. For what I can see, the Pope has more immediate aims than those of spreading the Conclave votes. And he knows how to use the rules for his own purpose. Just appointing a US bishop who support him would have probably raised some concern among American bishops… so it was better to wait and see, using a non written rule that has been almost always applied. This is how I see it.

  3. Paul H scrive:

    I have heard that the pope (whether Francis or any recent pope) typically will not appoint the archbishop of a diocese as a cardinal if that archbishop’s predecessor is a cardinal below the age of 80. The idea is to avoid having two voting cardinals from the same archdiocese at the same time. This could explain why Chaput (Philadelphia), Cupich (Chicago), and Gomez (Los Angeles) were not selected, as each of these archdioceses already has a retired Cardinal archbishop under the age of 80 (if I am not mistaken).

    But I do not deny that there are other considerations, and that this rule (if it is a rule) may have exceptions. I hope that Chaput, Gomez, and Cupich (yes, even Cupich, though I have some concerns about him) are made cardinals once the retired cardinals from their dioceses pass the age of 80.

  4. Martin Keenan scrive:

    The operative principle, if I may say so, blocks only what is evidently felt to be the anomaly of having two papal electors bound to the same See either as occupant or emeritus.

    According to Sandro Magister, blog entry of 22 October 2010 at http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1345246?eng=y), this principle was first observable at the November 2007 Consistory of Pope Benedict XVI. The case of Bagnasco (created Cardinal then) was an exception, but of short duration, for Bertone (his predecessor at Genoa, and a cardinal since 2003), was appointed Cardinal-bishop of Frascati on 10 May 2008 at which point he ceased to be emeritus of Genoa.

    In the case of Nichols, Murphy-O’Connor was already over the age of 80 at the time of the 2013 Conclave (as was Daneels – but Léonard reaches the canonical retirement age of 75 in May this year, and so will have been excluded from the purple for that reason), and Dew’s predecessor is already 84. By contrast, in the cases of Rouco Varela, Chaput, Gómez, and Cupich, their predecessors are all still electors (the oldest of them, Rigali, emeritus of Philadelphia, will not attain 80 until April). Although the distance between February and April is not so significant, the 15 new electors will raise the tally to 123, already 3 over the limit.

    When Scola was translated to Milan in June 2011 he ceased to be emeritus of Venezia, so this principle does not operate to bar Moraglia from the purple; nor does it bar Léonard (since Daneels, his An even more pronounced case is that of Betori of Firenze whose predecessor, Piovanelli, attained 80 as long ago as 21 February 2004 and was therefore disqualified from voting in the 2005 Conclave.

  5. Martin Keenan scrive:

    Apologies for the garbled last paragraph. From the second line, it should read:-

    “so this principle does not operate to bar Moraglia from the purple; nor does it technically bar Léonard. An even more pronounced case is that of Betori of Firenze whose predecessor, Piovanelli, attained 80 as long ago as 21 February 2004 and was therefore disqualified from voting in the 2005 Conclave.”

  6. Mary scrive:

    I come from the Archdiocese where the now Cardinal John Dew has been until his current election Archbishop. I disagree entirely with the author’s notion that Cardinal Dew may seem to reflect a similar orientation as that of Cardinal Pell. I would say they are polls apart. Dew is a progressive in that his program seems to envision and embrace a changing Church which follows and necessitates a break with what is considered Romanism. Collegiality means more ‘rule and power’ by each bishop simply united in courtesy around Peter. Or so it seems rather more like Anglicanisms provincial idea of universal as regards the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a problem when universality becomes the elevation of provincialism. Secondly, in the Archdiocese lay leaders (mostly women) run the show. Priests are called ‘parish leaders’ and in a diocese of less priests (orchestrated?) and keen lay women who hanker to balance priestly power at the very least, priests effectively are relegated to the role of sacramental minister. In effect we only need one priest to confect the eucharist for the whole diocese and the ladies can distribute it at the liturgy of the word which has almost everything but the consecration and vestments.
    All in all it is a sad state of affairs. Catholics who don’t feel the love in the program are likely to be black listed. Lay pastoral leaders are taught by those who in their doctorates bow the knee to the enlightenment giving it a free pass.
    Cardinal Pell is light years away and therefore closer to the heart of the Church whose universality is not Hegelian progressivism but eternal, timeless, out of this world and therefore in this world….transcending all things and therefore in all things.
    Cardinal Dew went to the Synod….at home one of his supporters wrote on a New Zealand website that ‘Archbishop Dew was going to Rome to deal to the pharisees with Pope Francis’. The regional Catholic rag boasts articles from time to time which can only be viewed as anti-Rome but now waxing lyrical about Francis. Maradiega visited last year and spent time with Dew….no doubt his supporter to Francis….certainly not likely it was Pell.

  7. Mary scrive:

    I want to say one more thing. Cardinal Dew is on record for proposing the reception of the Eucharist to those baptised non-Catholics married to Catholics. Cardinal Scola opposed the idea on the basis that their desire to receive could simply be satisfied by becoming Catholics. Also in the Synod interviews Dew is on record for questioning about the need for annulments to be made ‘easier’ and asks about the innocent party in the marriage….where does the current state of things leave them. These kind of statement doesn’t show a deep appreciation for what annulments are, what Confirmation is and what marriage is.
    But what rankles is the pretense over the wonderful state of things that these questions can be asked and that there is a greater sense of freedom. It seems to an observer that this is fair enough and it is as far as questions go. But what it doesn’t disclose the true state of affairs in the Archdiocese. What this masks is the true state which isn’t of asking questions but a little hysteria over Pope Francis that what they have already been doing in practice may get official approval. Already in the Archdiocese Baptised non-Catholics married to Catholics are invited to the eucharist – such a person expresses explicit approval from the Archbishop to receive, it is defended by the priest and the parishioners…Confirmation isn’t necessary. Applications for annulments aren’t encouraged. It may well be that island people indeed dislike sharing such personal information…but that is a smoke screen…they are the most faithful of people in the Faith. The Church is condoning invalid and illicit marriage ceremonies within the Church. I gave up being an organist when I found I was unwittingly playing at such an attempted wedding. For the most part the parishioners go along with it…
    So as far as the Archdiocese of Wellington is concerned the Synod on the Family is simply exciting as a movement to rubber stamp what is already happening…to which the Archbishop now Cardinal is confirmed ‘visionary’ by his supporters. Catholics who are happy to be open to the discussions of the Church in Faith and Reason such as those like Pell and the five theologians who answered Kaspar in their book are simply targets for persecution….not by singling out but by black listing and outposting.

  8. Rolando, OFS scrive:

    Perhaps Pope Francis is being true to Jesus’ call to all disciples, “Miserando atque eligendo.”

  9. Mary scrive:

    Yes also New Zealand has a Cardinal Tom Williams. He is over the age of 80 and established now Cardinal Dew as his successor which could not be overturned. It is Williams who established the beginnings of the lay leadership as the preferred pastoral plan. Dew is Williams successor. New Zealand has a reputation of pelagianism in many parts. The best Diocese is Christchurch.
    New Zealand has almost no active women orders which are flourishing. We have Contemplative Carmelite nuns who are excellent. All in all a dry land after decades of being incessantly visited by Catholic Action from the USA. One priest I know who seemed to have a massive change of heart in some way has simply denounced many of these women as witches. Interesting in the Church….after all Cesare Borgia was a Cardinal ….we shall prevail.

  10. Joao scrive:

    The Patriarch of Lisbon (Portugal) was also elevated to Cardinal.

    So it should be 4 european cardinals and not 3.

    Incidently he published a summary of his intervention in the synod and apparently backed Cd. Kasper (see last paragraphs of http://www.patriarcado-lisboa.pt/site/index.php?cont_=40&id=4191&tem=301)

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