Pope Francis puts indelible mark on College of Cardinals

Pope Francis puts indelible mark on College of Cardinals

Peter Westmore

Pope Francis has appointed 19 new cardinals, putting his own stamp on the College of Cardinals less than a year after his election as pope.

Of the new cardinals, 16 are less than 80 years of age, and are currently eligible to vote in the election of the next pope.

The remaining three cardinals are Italian Archbishop Loris F. Capovilla, aged 98, who was personal secretary of Blessed John XXIII; the outspoken emeritus Archbishop of Pamplona, Spain, Fernando Sebastian Aguilar; and the emeritus Archbishop from the small island of St Lucia in the Caribbean, Kelvin Felix, who spends his days saying masses in parish churches.

In a striking comment, the Holy Father wrote to the new cardinals saying that becoming a cardinal was not a 'promotion', but rather an expansion of their vision in service to God. He asked that if they celebrate, to do it with "austerity and poverty" as well as joy.

The new cardinals reflect Pope Francis' concern for the Church in the developing world, particularly South America which will have four new cardinals, and he has appointed cardinals from some of the poorest countries in the world, ensuring that their perspectives are heard at the highest levels in the Church.

Robert Moynihan, editor of the magazine Inside the Vatican, wrote, "Under Francis, we are in a period when old schemes of ecclesial power and authority, and promotion, are being set aside in favour of a new emphasis on pastoral care in support of the marginalised and the suffering."

The pope wishes to ensure that institutional inertia does not undermine the new evangelisation.

The Population Reference Bureau published a 2005 analysis of the distribution of Catholics around the world, and likely trends over the next 30 years. Its conclusions are surprising, and very important.

It found that over 42 per cent of the world's Catholics live in Latin America, but they comprise only 13 per cent of the College of Cardinals.

In contrast, Europe had 26 per cent of the world's Catholics, but about 58 per cent of the world's cardinals, with over 20 per cent coming from Italy.


The population report found that if present trends continue, by 2050 – just 36 years away – Europe will have only 16 per cent of the world's Catholics, compared to 22 per cent in Africa, and 41 per cent in Latin America.

While there is no necessary correlation between the proportion of Catholics and cardinals, the major imbalance reflects the past, when the Church was predominantly European, rather than the future. Pope Francis clearly wants to orient the Church more towards the future, as well as towards the poorer nations.

The new cardinals from Latin America are the archbishops of the sprawling cities of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Santiago (Chile), as well as archbishops from smaller and poorer countries in Central America and the Caribbean, Nicaragua and Haiti.

Even after the latest appointments, Latin America is still significantly under-represented on the College of Cardinals, so we can expect further appointments from this region in the immediate future.

Africa, where the Church is growing very substantially, has two new cardinals, one from Burkina Faso and the other from the Ivory Coast. Again, the proportion of African cardinals is still well below the proportion of Africans in the universal church, so future appointments can be expected to include more Africans.

There are two new cardinals from Asia, chosen from places where the Church has experienced phenomenal growth, the Philippines and South Korea.

Significantly, the new Cardinal from the Philippines, Cardinal Quevedo comes from Mindanao, far from the capital Manila, and close to the Muslim insurgency in the south of the country. Cardinal Quevedo, an Oblate, strongly opposed the Marcos dictatorship and has a long track record of commitment to the poor and marginalised.

There is only one new cardinal from North America, Cardinal Grégoire Lacroix from Quebec, Canada. He replaced Cardinal Ouellet as Archbishop of Quebec, when the latter became head of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome in 2010.

Cardinal Lacroix has an interesting background. His father was a lumberjack in Quebec, but could not earn enough money to support the family, and so the family moved to live in New Hampshire in the United States when Grégoire Lacroix was a boy.

He went to school in the United States, returning to Quebec after finishing high school, and worked as a graphic designer. He came in contact with a new religious movement, the Institute of St Pius X, which is a secular institute whose members live in the world, but take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

At the age of 25, he realised he had a religious vocation, and was ordained a priest at the age of 31. Two years later, he went to support the Institute's missions in South America working for about 10 years as a parish priest in Colombia, in an area spanning many small villages.

He therefore acquired an intimate knowledge of French Canadian, American and Latin American societies. He returned to Canada to become head of the Institute of St Pius X.

Some years later, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop to the then Archbishop of Quebec, Marc Ouellet, himself an outstanding priest, and was appointed Archbishop of Quebec when Archbishop Ouellet went to Rome.

Cardinal Lacroix is one of the youngest Cardinals, being aged 56, and he is now overseeing a revival of the Church in Quebec, where only 10 per cent of the Catholics practise their faith, based on building a relationship between the Catholic lay people and Jesus as Saviour. He is a champion of the new evangelisation.

Apart from the curial appointments, only one Italian has been named, Cardinal Bassetti from Perugia, who has an intense pastoral ministry, while the very prominent sees of Turin and Venice are not represented in the College of Cardinals.

The increase in the number of cardinals from the Third World will ensure that missionary concerns are at the forefront of the Church's role in the world. The Holy Father clearly recognises that the role of the Holy See is to support local initiatives rather than to control them.


The four new curial cardinals reflect changes at senior levels of the Vatican administration, where Pope Francis has appointed a number of his closest collaborators to key posts. All the recent appointments are men with wide practical experience.

Three of the new curial cardinals are Vatican diplomats: Pietro Parolin, Beniamino Stella, and Lorenzo Baldisseri, the three diplomats whom Pope Francis has promoted respectively to the positions of Secretary of State (effectively, Prime Minister), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops.

Cardinal Parolin has spent much of his life in the Vatican's diplomatic service, first in Nigeria, then in Mexico, next in the Vatican Curia, and most recently in Venezuela as the Papal Nuncio, under the difficult circumstances of the presidency of Hugo Chávez (who died on 5 March 2013).

Cardinal Parolin, who is fluent in English, French and Spanish, as well as Italian, is very well-informed about the situation in Latin America today. He was also involved in Vatican attempts to establish diplomatic relations with Communist Vietnam and China, so is well-informed on Asia.

Further, for a number of years he was the Vatican's representative at nuclear arms reduction talks in Vienna, so he understands well the situation of global armaments and their control. He has been at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Cardinal Stella, who heads the Congregation for the Clergy, speaks at least four languages, and has served in Vatican missions in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, Zaire, Malta, Chad, Central African Republic and Cuba, where he served for seven years, before spending eight years in strife-torn Colombia.

He was appointed by Pope Benedict to run the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy, the Vatican's training school for its diplomats. He impressed people with his holiness, gentleness, loyalty and discretion.

CDF appointment

The other curial appointment was Cardinal Gerhard Müller, whom Pope Benedict had put in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Müller has an outstanding academic reputation as a theologian, was a protegé of Joseph Ratzinger, and has been outspoken on contentious issues including the divisions between traditionalists and progressives, and liberation theology.

He has deplored the "growing polarisation between traditionalists and progressives [which] is threatening the unity of the Church and generating strong tensions among its members".

He added, "Traditionalist and progressive camps that see the Second Vatican Council as breaking with the truth both espouse a heretical interpretation of the Council and its aims."

What Pope Benedict called "the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity" is the "only possible interpretation according to the principles of Catholic theology," he said.

In a 2012 interview with L'Osservatore Romano, he was asked about liberation theology. He said, "In 1988 I was invited to take part in a seminar with Gustavo Gutierrez [a founder of Liberation Theology].

"I went with a certain reservation as a German theologian, also because I knew well the two statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on liberation theology published in 1984 and in 1986.

"However, I was able to see that it is necessary to distinguish between a mistaken liberation theology and a correct one. I believe that every good theology has to do with the freedom and glory of the children of God.

"Certainly a mixture of the doctrine of Marxist self-redemption with the salvation given by God must be rejected.

"On the other hand we must ask ourselves sincerely: how can we speak of the love and mercy of God in face of the suffering of so many people who don't have food, water, health care, who don't know how to offer a future to their children, where human dignity is truly lacking, where human rights are ignored by the powerful?

"In the last analysis this is possible only if we are also willing to be with the people, to accept them as brothers and sisters, without paternalism from on high. If we consider ourselves as God's family, then we can contribute to make these situations that are unworthy of man change and improve."

Cardinal Müller's views have annoyed both progressives who reject the teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and by those traditionalists who deny the validity of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass.

However, they accord with the teachings of the Council and the repeated statements of Pope Francis.

The new appointments mark a change from the past, as Pope Francis shifts the Church in a new direction to meet the new challenges of the 21st century.

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