10 July 2023, The Tablet

Analysis – Pope Francis shapes the future with new cardinals

Analysis – Pope Francis shapes the future with new cardinals

Pope Francis yesterday greeted a group of your Ukrainians at St Peter’s and then announced a public consistory in next september to create 30 new cardinals.
Credit Image: © Evandro Inetti/ZUMA Press Wire

In July, Pope Francis is supposed to slow down and take some time off. This year, the opposite has happened. During the first nine days of this month, a new prefect for the doctrine office, participants in the forthcoming synod, details of an upcoming trip to Mongolia and a new batch of cardinals have all been announced. Francis, 86, is sending a message to the Church: he’s speeding up the pace of reform.

The weekend’s announcement of 21 new cardinals, of which 18 can vote in a future conclave, is another step in his shake up of the College of Cardinals, the body that will choose his successor. Throughout his pontificate, the Pope has radically changed the make-up of the cardinals and the criteria by which they are selected. He has ripped up the unwritten conventions of an appointment system that could fall prey to careerism, given it was assumed that being the archbishop of a certain diocese – usually in Italy, Europe and the United States – automatically meant becoming a cardinal. 

His latest announcements once again underline at least three factors that have driven his choices of cardinals. 

The first is his desire for the College of Cardinals to reflect the “world Church”, particularly where it is growing and working at the peripheries. Once again, Paris, Los Angeles and Milan were overlooked for bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin of Juba becomes South Sudan’s first cardinal (a country the Pope made a historic ecumenical pilgrimage to last year with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of Scotland Moderator) and there are red hats for Archbishops Stephen Brislin in Cape Town, South Africa and Protase Rugambwa in Tabore, Tanzania. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Jesuit bishop, Stephen Chow, will be made a cardinal placing him in a key role in navigating Holy See-China relations.

At the same time, the Bishop of Penang, Stephen Francis, who studied Justice and Peace at the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York, will be Malaysia’s second cardinal. In the 2013 conclave that elected Francis, ten cardinals were from Asia, 19 from Latin America and 11 from Africa. After the latest batch of cardinals are created, 23 voting members will be from Asia, 19 from Africa and 24 from Latin America. 

Second, the Pope uses his choices of cardinals to send messages that underline his pastoral priorities for the Church. The strongest one can be read with the choice of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Pierre, one of the Holy See’s most accomplished diplomats, has navigated the highly polarised US Church and tried to respond constructively to the resistance to Francis within the hierarchy. His recent speech to the bishops, where he reflected on the role of the Eucharist in evangelisation and linked it to the synodal reform process, was a good example of his approach. Making Pierre a cardinal also challenges those bishops who supported Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the US, who in 2018 released a dossier of allegations against Francis and called on him to resign. Given the inaccuracies in the Viganò dossier, will those bishops now correct the record? 

The choice of Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, sends an important geopolitical message when violence escalates in the Holy Land and will help boost the dialogue efforts of the “Mother Church, the Church of Jerusalem”. Naming Claudio Gugerotti, the leader of the Vatican’s office for eastern churches, reflects Francis’ peace efforts in response to the war in Ukraine while the choice of Luis Dri, a 96-year-old Capuchin Franciscan, holds up the example of a merciful pastor. Dri, who for years has heard confessions at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Pompeii, Buenos Aires, has talked about asking Jesus’ forgiveness for absolving too many people while joking, “it was you who gave me the bad example!”

Third, the Pope’s choices are often personal rather than ideological. Francis does not consult about who to make a cardinal, relying on his instincts about people. This usually throws up surprises. At the August 2022 consistory, he made Bishop Giorgio Marengo, a 49-year-old missionary working in Mongolia, a cardinal. Intriguingly, he had met Marengo in the Vatican the day before he named him a cardinal. In the latest batch, there are other surprises, including Américo Aguiar, the 49-year-old auxiliary bishop of Lisbon who worked in local politics before ordination and has been closely involved in organising World Youth Day.

The leader of the Salesian religious order, Ángel Fernández Artime, is another interesting choice given superiors of religious orders are rarely made cardinals. But Francis knows Artime from the Salesian’s time working in Buenos Aires. Another intriguing name is Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, given a red hat as a non-voting cardinal. Marchetto, a retired diplomat, had worked at the Vatican office for migrants and is a scholar of the Second Vatican Council. His work on the council critiques an understanding of the council as a break with elements of the Church’s past or a kind of “Copernican revolution” and instead argues that the council should be understood as reform in continuity. Although Marchetto's reading of Vatican II appears more cautious than Francis's, it has not stopped him from becoming a cardinal. It points to the Pope’s desire to hold a variety of viewpoints within the Church, as seen with the recent participants' list for the synod. Francis also knew Marchetto before he was elected Pope, and in 2013 praised his work as the “best hermeneutic” through which to understand the council. 

The new cardinals will receive their red hats at a consistory on 30 September, and after that date, Francis will have chosen 72 per cent of the men who will elect his successor.

What might be coming next? Could a change to how the conclave works be on the cards? Francis is likely to have more surprises up his sleeve as he pushes ahead at breakneck speed.  



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