Some compare the pontificate of Pope Francis to an epochal change that cannot be perceived by a “bubble” of observers. It is true that Pope Francis, in these ten years of his pontificate, has revolutionized many things, primarily based on his practical sense and his way of seeing things. It is not true, however, that it was not immediately perceived that Pope Francis wanted to implement an epochal change. Indeed, it is precisely what the criticisms and alarms immediately focused on, even when few dared to sound them.
At the beginning of the pontificate, granting an “advance vote of sympathy” was necessary, and any criticism was taken as prejudice. This very same blog wrote about it, in 2013, and was heavily attacked at the time for things that today, seen in perspective, look mild.
The question, at this point, is where will Pope Francis go? What is his final plan? The week that has just passed has been uneventful, without major appointments or significant decisions. The Pope has returned to public activity, and he is preparing the trip to Mongolia, which will begin on August 31st. Then, there will be two crucial events.
The first will be the Consistory of September 30th. The Pope has not yet announced whether another consistory, a meeting, will accompany the Consistory for creating new cardinals. It took place last year, and it hasn’t happened since 2014. However, last year’s conference was divided into working groups with speakers and few opportunities for intervention. Many cardinals put away the speeches they would have liked to give. Most of them ended up disappointed with the situation.
The Pope has not allowed the cardinals to meet. However, in the ten years of his pontificate, he has already celebrated nine consistories, in practice changing the majority of the College of Cardinals and implementing a generational change that probably had no precedent in the history of the Church – the exception was the Consistory of John Paul II in 2002, which also included Jorge Mario Bergoglio himself in an extensive list of cardinals.
In this case, however, a meeting could be crucial. The Pope is giving his address to the Church, as attested by the letters with which he accompanies the latest appointments (the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the new rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, an auxiliary in the diocese of Rome and a rector of its seminary). Therefore, a meeting would allow the Pope to give direction to the cardinals or at least direct some programmatic lines.
There is no talk of it for now because Pope Francis has always preferred not revealing his intentions. The latest modalities, however, suggest that something could happen at the Consistory.
If only because the Consistory is inextricably attached to the other significant event, which is the first leg of the Synod on the life of the Church – known as the Synod on Synodality, an expression, however, disliked by the members of the General Secretariat of the Synod.
This will be a synod of a new type. We need to see the new regulations to understand how the working groups will operate and how the final text delivered to the Pope will be drawn up. Indeed, even if a final text is given to the Pope, or if we will wait for the second leg next year.
We know that the number of participants has increased, that they will be in Paul VI Hall, and that the discussion will be facilitated by the groups meeting in round tables to encourage dialogue.
But what will the discussion be like? Putting aside the prepared speeches, a possibility is that the dialogue takes the direction of the moderator of the smaller circles or, in any case, its more charismatic participants. This is an eventuality that most delegates would not like much.
Therefore, the next Synod will not be about ideas but reactions. There will be progressives and supporters of the Synod who will be unhappy with the process, just as there will be conservatives who may be able to achieve positive results and be happy about it. It’s a gamble.
A gamble that reflects the pontificate. Just as there does not seem to be certainty about the conduction of the debate – but the Synod’s regulations will deny or confirm this – there does not seem to be a firmness of the pontificate. Canon law appears to be set aside or subjected to extemporaneous or personal decisions. At the same time, the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, which is crucial in this sense, also seems to be set aside.
Pope Frances intervenes on the law to the point of changing the rules of an ongoing civil trial, and the impression is that for the Pope, the law serves the pontificate and not the people. But the law, in reality, is to protect people; it is not intended to help the pontificate make up new rules.
In this situation of uncertainty, it is not even known who will be retained and who will not. There is even a rumor that the soon-to-be cardinal Americo Aguiar, auxiliary of Lisbon, will be called to the Vatican as prefect of the Laity, Family, and Life Dicastery to succeed Cardinal Kevin Farrell. Farrell, also the Camerlengo, was considered one of Francesco’s trusted people. But Pope Francis wants to change everyone every five years, with few exceptions.
And the exceptions are for lifelong friends, such as Archbishop Victor Fernandez, also to become cardinal, whom the Pope wanted in Rome and with whom he interacts continuous and diligently unlike with nobody else in Rome except an old friend, a woman.
Consistory and Synod will set the pace of the change of era of this pontificate. Perhaps what the Pope has done in recent years has not been understood, maybe the Berlin Wall has fallen, and we are all talking about something that no longer exists. Indeed, by now, every Vatican analysis cannot use the old categories because Pope Francis does not use them. The problem, however, is that there aren’t any new categories. Everything is uncertain.