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The new cardinals: Pope Francis bids for ‘irreversible change’

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 03, 2019

Having named 13 new members of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis will—as of October 5—have named a majority of the cardinals who will elect the next Roman Pontiff. At least on paper, then, he has had a chance to ensure that the next conclave will elect a prelate who shares his vision for the Church.

The numbers, by themselves, mean very little. Pope John Paul II appointed 231 cardinals: more than enough to constitute a super-majority in the next conclave. But he sought authentic diversity in the College, and he conferred many red hats on prelates who would differ with his pastoral approach: Cardinals Bernardin, Danneels, Laghi, Martini, Mahony, Silvestrini, Turkson, and—in the remarkable consistory of 2001—Kasper, McCarrick, Maradiaga, Hummes, Lehmann, and Bergoglio, now known as Francis.

In naming the cardinals who will be his advisers and will choose his successor, Pope Francis has taken a different approach. Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former worldwide leader of the Jesuit order, reported that Pope Francis once told him that he hoped to remain as Pontiff until “the changes are irreversible.” Packing the College of Cardinals with like-minded electors is an obvious step in that direction.

The liberal Jesuit columnist, Father Thomas Reese, wrote in 2016 that the Pope’s selections to the College were “the most revolutionary thing Francis has done in terms of Church governance.” He admitted that if he were a conservative Catholic, looking at the Pope’s selections, “Frankly, I would have been outraged.”

Now, two consistories later, the pattern is even more unmistakable. In his analysis of the Pope’s choices, John Allen of Crux underlines the salient point:

This is a consistory in which Francis is elevating a cohort of like-minded churchmen, positioning them to help advance his agenda right now and also to help ensure that the next pope, whoever it may be, isn’t someone inclined to roll back the clock.

The 13 new cardinals—of whom 10 are under 80 and therefore eligible to participate in a conclave—will bring the total number of cardinal-electors to 128. That’s well above the statutory limit of 120. But since the Pope who set that limit (John Paul II) ignored it himself, we can probably regard that “limit” as a “suggestion”—a non-issue. What the Pope declares, the Pope can change.

Among the new cardinals-designate, there are several clear indications of the Pope’s determination to put his stamp on the college:

  • Three (Czerny, Hollerich, and Tamkevicius) are fellow Jesuits.
  • Two—Hollerich and Zuppi—are prominent members of the European liberal bloc.
  • Cardinal-designate Zuppi wrote a foreword for Building a Bridge, the book by the notorious Father James Martin, SJ, advocating a change in Church attitudes toward homosexuality.
  • Cardinal-designate Tolentino de Medonca wrote a laudatory introduction to a book by Sister Maria Teresa Forcada, who supports legal abortion and women’s ordination and has been dubbed by BBC as “Europe’s most radical nun.”
  • Cardinal-designate Fitzgerald (who will not have a vote in a papal conclave because of his age) was removed from his Vatican post by Pope Benedict; the red hat will be a sign that his views—including a conciliatory line in Catholic-Islamic dialogue—are now welcome in Rome. It may also be noteworthy that the current president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue (the office that Fitzgerald once held), Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, will also receive a red hat, in a sign of the importance Pope Francis attaches to that effort.
  • Cardinal-designate Czerny is not a bishop, nor does he head a Vatican office. He is undersecretary at the dicastery for integral human development, responsible for migrants and refugees. In the Vatican tradition, a cardinal never serves under any other prelate but the Pope. If Cardinal Czerny continues in his current role his status would break that rule; he would appear on the organizational chart under Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the dicastery. His status as a cardinal would emphasize—as if any emphasis were necessary—the Pope’s keen interest in the issue of migration.

Along with the naming of these new cardinals, Pope Francis gave another unmistakable indication of his management style when he appointed Msgr. Dario Vigano to a new post as vice chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Msgr. Vigano—not to be confused with Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal critic—is an old papal ally, who was forced to resign as the Vatican’s communications chief after he was caught distributing a doctored letter from Pope-emeritus Benedict. He too is now being rehabilitated, and sent back into the field of communications, with a newly created job handling publicity for the pontifical academies. He’ll have his hands full. He will be working with the bumptious Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who has used his post as chancellor of the pontifical academies to promote his own unique political theories—such as the insistence that anyone who questions climate change is subsidized by American oil corporations and the Chinese government is the best examplar of Catholic social teaching.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Sep. 07, 2019 6:24 PM ET USA

    The only road I see leading away from this looming cliff depends on turning up unassailable evidence that the conclave of 2013 was invalid due to illegal politicking. If Jorge Bergoglio was not properly elected as Pope, then all his appointments to the Cardinalate are probably invalid as well. Perhaps at this one stroke a slim chance might be given us to reverse the seemingly irreversible.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Sep. 04, 2019 3:27 PM ET USA

    And with Amoris Laetitia, and the purging of the JPII Institute, Pope Francis has given his official sign of approval to the enemies of the family within the Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Sep. 03, 2019 9:34 AM ET USA

    We have already entered the dungeon of a new dark age, and Pope Francis has shown clearly that he intends to seal off the exits. Without divine intervention, he will succeed. Not my will, but Thine be done, O Heavenly Father.