What Pope Francis will hold on September 30 is not just a consistory that serves to ensure an overwhelming majority in the next conclave. It is instead a consistory full of signals, ones also found in the most recent decisions of the pontificate. Pope Francis is trying, at all costs and in all ways, to secure a legacy.

For this reason, this consistory cannot be read with simple geographical categories, which nevertheless exist and confirm the general tendency of all nine consistories under Pope Francis: to give representation to more countries and peoples from all around the world, with a different kind of regard for geopolitical significance and ecclesiastical clout.

There is a cardinal from Malaysia, as well as one from Cape Town, South Africa, and a second voter from Tanzania, perhaps never so represented. Pope Francis is also continuing to give a voice to countries at war. The archbishop of Juba becomes cardinal.

Pope Francis continues to pay little attention to the sees traditionally considered cardinalatial, e.g. Milan, Naples, Paris, Brussels, and Toronto, all missing from the list. The new archbishop of Madrid, however, gets a red hat.

There is a look to particular dialogue fronts, such as that of Russia and Ukraine, with Archbishop Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for Oriental Churches, coming second on the list. Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong is also to become a cardinal, at a time when he is working to establish good relations with the archdiocese of Beijing, which he visited in April.

The keys to understanding this consistory, however, must be sought elsewhere.

The first, and perhaps central, is the selection of new bishops.

Pope Francis has shown that this is a priority for him. He has recently wrought profound personnel changes in some national episcopates he considered too “rigid” or “culture-warring” in stance. It is no coincidence that the new prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, Archbishop Prevost, opened the list and that the numbers 4 and 5 on the list are two apostolic nuncios, the nuncio in Italy, Emil Paul Tscherrig and the nuncio in the United States, Christophe Pierre.

The nuncios probably understood best Francis’ needs for the episcopate and acted accordingly in their research and proposals.

Then, there is the criterion for the formation of priests.

The appointment of Bishop Michele Di Tolve, the new auxiliary bishop of Rome, as rector of the Roman Major Seminary was already a universal signal. The Pope wants pastors, not culture warriors, and he wants pastors close to the people, regardless of the turbulence or tension this creates in the clergy and the episcopate. In fact, Pope Francis has chosen a bishop as rector of the seminary, and it is the first time. Pope Francis is saying: This is my guy. He answers to me directly.

Leaving aside the fact that the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Victor Manuel Fernandez, also falls within this theme of formation, Pope Francis makes cardinal the bishop of Ajaccio François-Xavier Bustillo, known for a book on the role of the bishop in the change of era (“Witnesses. Not Officials”) that the Pope gave to the clergy of Rome after the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, 2022.

In addition to the new cardinal-electors, Pope Francis also chose Cardinal Father Luis Pascual Dri, 96, confessor of the Shrine of Nueva Pompeya in Buenos Aires, cited several times by Pope Francis as an example. Father Dri has reportedly raised concerns because he is “too merciful,” but for Pope Francis, that is the point: God is merciful, and he also writes in the letter to the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that any doctrine that questions God’s omnipotence but, above all, his infinite mercy is not suitable.

On the other hand, this is how Pope Francis speaks: He creates an army of cardinals and bishops he considers close through symbols and signs. The generals of the Pope’s army always receive ranks and commission. They always have a public role that does not allow them to detach themselves or live the requests of the Holy Father in a creative way.

Pope Francis also uses the consistory to give political–practical guidelines.

If among the new members of the Synod of Bishops, the presence of Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller stands out as a direct pontifical appointment, among the new cardinals, even without the right to vote, that of Archbishop Agostino Marchetto stands out.

One could think that it was for his work with migrants during his period as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants. It is more probable that the Pope chose him for his widespread, detailed, precise work of interpreting the Second Vatican Council. Marchetto does not consider the Council as a rupture but rather as something to be read in continuity in the history of the Church.

The presence of Marchetto among the new red hats appears to be a guarantee, in other words.

Faced with a pontificate that wants to show itself as the definitive interpreter of the Second Vatican Council, calling a cardinal who underlines the total continuity of the Council is a guarantee. He serves to say: We are doing what the Second Vatican Council asked of us, and we are doing it precisely because we believe in the interpretation of continuity.

In some way, the presence of Marchetto on the list also places highly unpopular decisions into this picture, such as the motu proprio Traditions custodes and its subsequent restrictive interpretations, which lifted most concessions made to those who prefer to celebrate Traditional Mass.

Similarly, the presence of Cardinal Mueller and other elements of equilibrium could represent a search for balance in a debate that is becoming increasingly polarized and increasingly harsh. In the end, Pope Francis will be increasingly divisive because he makes decisions now and in a definitive way.

And so, this consistory represents the closing of a circle that began ten years ago.

The Pope began his pontificate by appointing Fernandez as archbishop when he was rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires, thus taking revenge on those from Rome who had vetoed his appointment as rector. He arrives at this ninth consistory creating Fernandez cardinal and calling him to the pope’s side in Rome.

Pope Francis inaugurated his tradition of annual consistories (he only skipped 2021) by placing the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in third place in the list of cardinals, after the secretary of state, but above all after the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. Again, the prefect of the DDF is in third place on the list of cardinals, preceded by other issues considered by Pope Francis as priorities.

Ten years ago, Pope Francis began to undermine the traditional makeup and mission profile of the College of Cardinals, slowly untying the cardinalate both from traditionally cardinalatial dioceses and the role in the Roman Curia. As of September 30, we will find ourselves with 136 cardinal electors, 16 more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI, and with 99 of these created by Pope Francis, an overwhelming majority.

Perhaps it may seem that there are no appointments of “remediation cardinals” as happened in recent consistories, when the Pope gave the red hat to the recently deceased nuncio Rauber, who was not heard when he proposed Jozef de Kesel as archbishop of Brussels, or when he gave it to Nuncio Fitzgerald, who had taken the papal embassy to Cairo after being secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in a move that was considered a demotion.

But then we note that in the list of new cardinals, there is the archbishop of Cordoba, Angel Sixto Rossi, head of the archdiocese where the Jesuits sent the young Bergoglio after he had served as provincial, in a move some biographers have considered an exile and marginalization. It’s as if to say the Pope gives greater dignity to the archdiocese that hosted its darkest years.

Perhaps all of this also illustrates a personality trait in Pope Francis, as who commands in his way without considering traditions or balances. So much so, that Americo Aguiar, an auxiliary of Lisbon, architect of the next World Youth Day and in total harmony with the Pope, has also been named cardinal. It matters little that the Patriarch of Lisbon is also a cardinal and that only one diocese thus has two red hats.

No unwritten or reasonable rule can stop a personal decision.

Thus has Pope Francis acted to secure his legacy. It will be a heavy one and hard to digest for his successor, whoever he may be.


2 Responses to Pope Francis, a consistory to give a sign and guarantee his legacy

  1. [...] Andrea Gagliarducciwww.mondayvatican.com/vatican/pope-francis-a-consistory-to-give-a-sign-and-guarantee-his-legacy [...]

  2. [...] outre, dans chaque consistoire, le pape François a presque à chaque fois créé des “remediation cardinals” [cardinaux de remédiation], des hommes âgés de plus de 80 ans et non électeurss au conclave, [...]

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