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The logic behind Pope Francis’s cardinal appointments

Fr Czerny: the first non-bishop named as a cardinal-elector since Vatican II (CNS)

The creation of cardinals used to be fairly predictable, as red hats were given to “cardinalatial” sees and the more senior and historic offices of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis has changed all that. The only predictable thing is that each new consistory will be full of surprises.

The sixth consistory of Pope Francis, to be held on October 5, will be true to the new form. Three of the 10 new cardinal-electors come from dioceses which have never had a cardinal before: Rabat (Morocco), Huehuetenango (Guatemala), and Luxembourg.

Size does matter, and the smaller the better. Luxembourg’s progressive Jesuit is in, and Los Angeles’s conservative Opus Dei archbishop is still out. The repeated bypassing of Archbishop José Gomez – the most senior Latino archbishop in America, leading the largest archdiocese in the country – continues to puzzle.

Also bypassed – for the sixth time by Pope Francis – is Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Even his predecessor during communist persecution was named a cardinal. Despite the concern that Pope Francis showed for the UGCC this past July at a special Vatican summit, it appears that the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow – and behind him, Vladimir Putin – still get a veto on matters Ukrainian, and their hostility to Shevchuk and the UGCC has been manifest for years. The day after the new cardinals were announced, the Holy Father received Shevchuk and the UGCC governing council of bishops in a long-planned audience. It must have been a bit awkward.

All popes create some cardinals to demonstrate their preferred pastoral priorities, most famously in 1879 when Pope Leo XIII included John Henry Newman in his first consistory, signalling a new theological encounter with modernity. Pope Francis has done it several times, creating a cardinal in the Italian city of L’Aquila to show his closeness to earthquake victims there; in Syria, where the nuncio was named a cardinal; in San Salvador, where the auxiliary bishop was created a cardinal to show the Holy Father’s esteem for Oscar Romero, the auxiliary bishop’s close friend; and in Rome, where Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner (dispenser of practical works of charity for the poor), was given the red hat.

This time, Jesuit priest Michael Czerny has been elevated, the first non-bishop made a cardinal-elector since Vatican II. (He may be ordained a bishop now, in accord with the decision of St John XXIII that all cardinals should be bishops.)

Cardinal-elect Czerny has a unique position in the Roman Curia. In the Holy Father’s curial reform, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People was abolished, subsumed into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. But this may have been interpreted as a diminution of the Holy Father’s care for migrants, so Pope Francis appointed himself the head of the Migrants and Refugees Section in the new dicastery, effectively placing himself both above and below Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the dicastery.

On a day-to-day basis Fr Czerny was appointed under-secretary to run the Migrants and Refugees office. He had previously served as chief aide to Cardinal Turkson. With his creation as a cardinal, and in accord with the curial principle that one cardinal does not report to another cardinal, Pope Francis has effectively recreated the pontifical council for migrants, which was only abolished three years ago.

Among those over 80, chosen for the honour of the cardinalate but ineligible to vote in a conclave, is Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. The British expert on Islam was seen to be out of favour with Benedict XVI, who dispatched him from Rome to be nuncio in Egypt. Like the elevation of Cardinal Karl-Josef Rauber in 2015 – the former nuncio in Belgium and public critic of Benedict – the elevation of Fitzgerald is in the mode of ecclesial rehabilitation.

Cardinal-elect Sigitas Tamkevičius, emeritus archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania, joins that most noble class of cardinals who suffered for the faith under communism. In 2016, Pope Francis elevated to the Sacred College Fr Ernst Simoni, the Albanian priest who spent 28 years in a communist forced labour camp. Now Tamkevičius will join him. The Lithuanian priest founded the Catholic Committee for Defence of the Believers’ Rights in 1978. In 1983, the Soviets arrested him and convicted him of anti-communist propaganda. He too was sentenced to labour camps and sent to Siberia in 1988. After the liberation of Lithuania from the Soviet empire, Tamkevičius was made Archbishop of Kaunas.

It is remarked at every consistory that the red robes of the cardinals signify their willingness to shed their blood for the faith. Tamkevičius belongs to that group that has already proven themselves worthy of the colour.

Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of