When Pope Francis announced the names of his new cardinals on Sunday, critics were quick to accuse of him of “stacking the deck”. The choices, they claimed, were aimed at influencing the outcome of the next conclave.
But there are two problems with this thesis. First, if Francis wanted to pack the papal electorate with supporters, why did he only pick five new candidates? There had been rumours that he would name 30 or so, temporarily inflating the number of cardinals able to vote in a conclave to 150 (far above the limit of 120 set by Paul VI in 1975). But after the consistory on June 28 (his fourth), Pope Francis will have named only 40 per cent of the cardinal-electors.
Second, if the Pope’s motive was to ensure the election of a like-minded successor, why are the five so difficult to place on the ecclesiastical spectrum? None of them appears to have personal links to Francis or to have aligned themselves noticeably with his pontificate.
If controlling the succession wasn’t the motive, then what was? Four of the five are the first cardinals from their respective nations. The obvious reason for the appointments is to give hitherto neglected Catholic communities a voice in the College of Cardinals.
Only one of the choices was predictable: Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, a traditional cardinalatial see. But the other four took vaticanisti by surprise. For example, Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun serves in Laos, a country that has no dioceses as it is still considered mission territory. In his apostolic vicariate of Paksé there are only 15,120 Catholics – the equivalent, say, of a large parish in Poland.
Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez is the first auxiliary bishop to receive the red hat in the post-conciliar era. Why did Francis name him a cardinal rather than his boss, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador? Largely, it seems, because Bishop Rosa Chávez was an ally of Blessed Oscar Romero, but perhaps also for his role in El Salvador’s 1992 peace process.
Archbishop Jean Zerbo leads the small and vulnerable but impressively devout Catholic community in Mali, where 95 per cent of the population is Muslim. His appointment is not only an honour for the West African nation, but also a boost for his efforts to strengthen ties with Islamic leaders.
Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, the youngest of the five, was the first native Swede to be named a Catholic bishop since the Reformation. After converting from Lutheranism aged 20, he entered Discalced Carmelites and will be the first serving cardinal in Scandinavia.
Catholics are understandably always interested in the next conclave. Perhaps the intrigue is particularly intense now, as the future seems uncertain. But electing a new Pope is not the cardinals’ only function. They must also be ready to offer the present Pope their advice. With the five new cardinals, Francis now has access to expert counsellors in nations where no Pope has previously had them. He seems to have chosen quality over quantity. That’s good news for the whole Catholic world.
Lefebvre’s long march
The Society of St Pius X, the breakaway group founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, continues to come in from the cold. During the recent Year of Mercy, the Pope granted priests of the Society the faculty to hear Confessions and to grant indulgences associated with the withdrawn.
More recently, the Pope gave permission for the priests of the Society to celebrate weddings, thus ensuring that such marriages were fully recognised in Catholic eyes. Now comes the most astonishing opening of all: the Pope has, according to SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay, granted permission for bishops of the Society to ordain new priests without the permission of the local ordinary.
Back in June 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre earned the disapproval of the Vatican by ordaining priests without permission. This led to his suspension a divinis, and it is from this moment that one can date the growing rupture between the Society and the Church. That the Pope is now reportedly giving permission to the Society to ordain its own priests means that the wound is on its way to being healed, and that the Society is ipso facto becoming something like a personal prelature; that is to say, an ecclesial structure, akin to a diocese, directly answerable to the Pope and not under the territorial jurisdiction of any other bishop. If that is the case, Mgr Lefebvre’s long campaign of defiance against the Holy See will have ended in triumph.
Not everyone will be happy with this result, and many are sure to point out that the Society seems to have made no recantation of its rejection of, for example, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae. This should not be dismissed as theological nit-picking. Nevertheless, all who long for the unity of the Church and the good of souls must be happy that this sad conflict appears to be coming to an end.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund