The pope’s choices for new cardinals

The pope’s choices for new cardinals

Pope Francis listens as Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, offers an explanation during the pope’s visit to a new homeless shelter for men in Rome in this 2015 file photo. The Polish archbishop is one of 14 churchmen who will become cardinals June 29.
CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout

On Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis announced 14 new cardinals are to be created on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, in Rome. I’ve received an invitation to attend, and so will cover the events for the Catholic Star Herald from the Vatican.

Those who follow this type of thing closely were not entirely surprised at the timing or numbers of the announcement, for as cardinals turn 80 and can no longer participate in a potential conclave, the “slots” open and are somewhat generally anticipated, but the names are the sole decision of the pontiff. Eleven of the 14 will be future cardinal-electors, one potentially for a staggering quarter of a century.

As in past “classes,” the pope eschewed traditional sites for the “peripheries.” Venice and Milan do not have cardinals, but now earthquake-ravaged L’Aquila does. Fatima has a cardinal for the first time, perhaps as a nod to Francis’ Marian devotion and insistence on the holiness of popular religiosity. Iraq, Pakistan, Peru, Madagascar and Japan are all represented in the group, further internationalizing the cardinalate beyond Europe and North America, which have dominated the ranks in the past.

Mallorcan Jesuit Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the Prefect of the CDF, Angelo DeDonatis, the vicar general of Rome, and Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a high-ranking prelate in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State Office, were among the insider “Roman” figures nominated to help advise the pope on church governance.

There are no Americans in this class and only three over the entire course of this papacy, diminishing the disproportionate influence the United States has had over the proceedings in the past. Contrast that with the fact that 15 countries have had a cardinal named for the first time under Francis, including places like Haiti, Mali and Myanmar.

This will be Pope Francis’s fifth consistory in just over five years. It is arguably among the most important decisions a pontiff makes, for his choices will almost assuredly have an impact on the church well beyond the course of his lifetime. Take the Papal Almoner Konrad Krajewski, charged with personally overseeing charitable works in the name of the Holy Father. Granted good health by the Almighty, he will now be able to vote for papal successors (or be voted for!) until November 2043.

If there are no unforeseen deaths, and Pope Francis remains in his current role until 2020, he will likely hold another consistory, which would have him at that point naming two-thirds of the electing body. After a change to 1996’s Universi Dominici Gregis, which had allowed for a simple majority after 13 days of inconclusive ballots, it now takes two-thirds of the cardinals to elect the pope. (In crass political terms, it is somewhat like removing the so-called “nuclear option” and re-instituting a 60-vote bar in the Senate to force compromise. No body of electors can simply hold out and elect their preferred candidate with 51 percent).

Thus, Francis’s choices (59) already outnumber Benedict XVI’s (47) and John Paull II’s (19), and could soon do so by a decisive margin. All of these men have their own visions, priorities and theological leanings, though, so while statistically true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can predict the future accurately. The Holy Spirit continues to blow through the church with its genesis in the God of Surprises. But at a human level, every passing consistory certainly makes reversing changes or reforms that Francis institutes more difficult.

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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