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?