AFPPane Francis with cardinals in St. Peter’s Square (photo from April 2023)
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 06:56
This morning, 21 new cardinals will receive a red cardinal’s hat and a new ring from Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. With the appointments, Francis exerts influence on who the next pope will be. Eighteen of the new cardinals are under 80 years old and have the right to vote at the next conclave, the ‘pope election’. For three people over the age of 80, the cardinal title is a reward for many years of loyal service.
A number of the new appointments are obvious, because they are part of the position that the new cardinals hold within the Curia, the administrative apparatus of the Church. They head important departments (called dicasteries), such as the American Robert Francis Prevost, who is in charge of the bishops, and the Argentinian Victor Manuel Fernández. He is concerned with the doctrine of the faith.
But Francis also places cardinals in unexpected places. Such as in Jerusalem, where the head of the Roman Catholics, the Italian Pierbattista Pizzaballa, now receives the red bonnet. A cardinal in the Holy Land, where many Christian church communities live together, is special and full of symbolic value.
And then there is the United States, where papal ambassador Christophe Pierre has been rewarded for his efforts to get the often very conservative American bishops behind the pope’s policies. Without much success, by the way. With his new cardinal title, his authority may increase.
Number of cardinals must be maintained
The most important task of a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church is to elect a new pope. He can of course also be elected himself during the voting rounds of the conclave in the beautifully decorated Sistine Chapel. Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) determined that the number of cardinals during the papal election should be around 120.
You generally become a cardinal after a long ecclesiastical career. Most cardinals are therefore not the youngest. Their right to vote at a conclave expires on their eightieth birthday. Every now and then someone dies who has not yet reached that age. That is why popes regularly appoint new cardinals (“create” is the official term), to ensure that the number of elective cardinals remains stable.
Today marks the ninth time since his election in 2013 that Pope Francis has refreshed the group of cardinals. With his creations he has revolutionized the electoral college that must determine his successor. In the past, the Europeans predominated and the Italian cardinals were even overrepresented. At the 2013 conclave, of the 115 cardinals who voted, no fewer than 28 were Italians.
That is not at all strange, by the way. Until the election of Polish Pope John Paul II in 1978, all popes since 1523 were Italians. The administrative apparatus in Rome was also largely staffed by Italians. In addition, it was common for archbishops of important Italian cities to automatically become cardinals.
Francis has put an end to this and drastically reduced the number of Italian cardinals. He chooses to give cardinals to countries on the periphery of the world. In places where there are few Catholics or where Catholics do not have an easy time. Think of Tonga, Haiti and Papua New Guinea. Today, countries such as South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Malaysia and Hong Kong (China) receive a cardinal.
AFPFranciscus at his weekly audience in Rome last Wednesday
Contrary to his custom, the Pope has decided this time to also grant the title of cardinal to a number of Europeans (but few Italians), from countries such as France, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland and Spain. Europe therefore continues to have a certain weight within the council, but much less than in previous conclaves.
In addition to their origins from distant parts of the world, many of Francis’s cardinals also have their pastoral approach in common. Francis wants an open Church that goes out into the world to help people and bring them closer together. A Church as a field hospital where everyone can find a place and where mercy outweighs rules and dogmas. Doctrinal sharpeners, who did well with his predecessor Benedict XVI, have little chance with him.
Waiting for the moment
After today, the club of electoral cardinals can continue for a while. As of tomorrow there will be 136, including a number of people in their sixties and even fifties. The youngest, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo of Mongolia, is only 49.
99 elective cardinals come from Francis’ hat, meaning that the cardinals created by him have well exceeded the magical limit of two-thirds of the total. Magical, because according to the rules a pope must be elected with a two-thirds majority.
Of course, Francis cannot appoint his successor himself, but he has done a lot to put together the group of men who will choose his successor in his view. Many of them support his vision and will probably want to continue it.
Whether that next conclave will come soon depends on Francis. Since Benedict XVI we have known that a pope does not have to die in armor, but can decide to resign. It is unclear whether Francis would want that. But whatever the case, the Electoral College seems ready.