Pope Francis’ choice of new cardinals announced on Sunday is consistent with his wish to take the Gospel to the peripheries, but it also went against some common expectations.
The 15 cardinal-designates, aged under 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect the next Pope, come from 14 countries, some of which have never had a cardinal before. The “most evident criteria” in the Pope’s nominations, said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, is that of “universality.”
Notably, most of the new “red hats” who will join the College of Cardinals (effectively a papal “Senate”) at a consistory on February 14 come from the developing world, and largely places where the faith is growing fastest.
None of them was chosen from North America as some had been expecting. But this wasn’t entirely surprising, partly because the U.S. already has the second-largest number of voting cardinals and that number has been largely stable since the Pope last appointed his last batch of red hats last year.
Two new cardinals come from Italy, but not from expected major dioceses such as Turin or Venice. The Vatican said this is because the Pope “is not bound to the traditions” of automatically making cardinals prelates of certain dioceses.
Italy still has by far the largest number of cardinals (26 after the two named on Sunday) and will continue to be highly influential in any conclave held over the next few years. But Francis is ensuring that the overall influence of Western red hats is lessened as he increases geographical representation that more closely reflects the life of the universal church.
Also notable in the Pope’s announcement is that he’s making only one Vatican official — Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who heads the Vatican’s highest court — a cardinal. The position is usually held by a cardinal, but Francis has, for the second consecutive consistory, omitted presidents of other Vatican departments, known as Pontifical Councils — again indicating a move away from traditional centers of power in favor of the periphery.
It’s usual in choosing cardinals, one of whom will become the next Pope, for a pontiff to select those most likely to continue their vision for the Church. Francis appears no different in this regard.
As expected, many of the new cardinals appear to share a similar, though not necessarily identical, reformist vision. For example, the only Anglophone nominee, Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, advocated allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion in 2005. During last year’s synod on the family, he also voiced his support for a change in language when ministering to homosexuals.
But contrary to other expectations, Francis chose not to name Archbishop Bruno Forte a cardinal. The Italian prelate, considered to be a rising star among reformers, is special secretary to the controversial Synod on the Family and close to Francis. The synod met in October and will meet again this coming October to discuss how the church can better deal with the crisis in the family today.
The Pope has also focused on Asia, a region of particular interest to him. In Vietnam, where the Holy See and Hanoi are seeking to establish full diplomatic relations, the Pope named Hanoi’s Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon a cardinal. Again with diplomatic advances in mind, the Pope will also award a red hat to Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma.
In addition to the 15 new cardinals announced Sunday, the Pope also nominated five retired prelates as cardinals. Unexpectedly among them was Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, a former Vatican official and protégé of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the leading orthodox voice at the Second Vatican Council.
Although Pope for just under two years, on February 14 Pope Francis will have appointed a quarter of the voting cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. Perhaps because of his advancing age, Francis is therefore putting his stamp on the church relatively quickly, ensuring that his reformist vision for the Catholic Church continues.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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