With Francis the era marked by “honorary awards” comes to an end, while the profile of a universal Church becomes more visible. But rather than disrupting century-old practices, Bergoglio chooses the “logic of the human person.” The brief outline of the College of Cardinals was drawn up by Daniele Menozzi, Professor of Contemporay History at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, (Italy), co-editor of the History of Christianity Magazine, after the announcement of a consistory for the creation of 17 new cardinals, to be held on November 19.
If you were asked to give a snapshot of the Cardinals announced by the Pope for the upcoming Consistory, which angle would you choose?
I would first focus on the internationalization process of the College of Cardinals. Such process was already under way, but the Pope intends to highlight the universal dimension of the Church, extended throughout the five Continents and across world countries.
In what ways does Francis differ from his predecessors in the criteria underlying the selection of the new Cardinals?
The traditional selection criterion of the College of Cardinals was a consolidated century-old practice, whereby the cardinalate was considered a kind of lifetime achievement award. This approach can be said to be no longer in practice.
Is geopolitical balance the underlying criterion?
The Pope confirmed it on the return flight from Azerbaijan. The appointment of certain cardinals – Madrid, Malines-Bruxelles, Brasilia – reflects the need to ensure the presence of representatives of specific Bishops Conferences, notably those characterising relevant national Catholic communities, inside a Church that represents the whole world. However, such geopolitical criteria encompass especially significant aspects. First of all
The presence of the peripheries – Bangui, Papua New Guinea, Mauritius – holds special meaning.
These communities testify to the presence of Catholic Communities whose significance does not lie in their numbers but in their quality, signifying a Church that is active on the world’s frontier areas in need of a strong thrust towards pastoral ways capable of communicating to others, including those who don’t identify with the Catholic religion.
Unlike the previous two consistories three new Cardinals from the US will be present in the upcoming consistory.
This decision further underlines the fact that US Catholicism is increasing in terms of its significance and importance as an ecclesial community endowed with the gift of proselytism and resources.
But at individual level it is evident that the geopolitical balance has been expressed in ways that are coherent with the approach of Pope Francis
For example, the cardinal of Indianapolis was chosen for his commitment in the dialogue aimed at furthering the understanding of a crucial problem faced by the Church today, namely, the question of the role of women. The new Cardinals include the prefect of a Congregation, who according to traditional practice is naturally entitled to cardinalship. However, Kevin Joseph Farrell heads one of the new fundamental dicasteries within Francis’ reforming process – the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life – charged with one of the crucial challenges of modernity.
Which “surplus” of newness do the four non-voting cardinals introduce?
Indeed, their appointment is the recognition of their role, of their exemplary behaviour inside the Church. One of them, Fr Ernest Simoni, is a simple priest who had not chosen the ecclesiatic career. Also in this case it is not a “lifetime achievement award”, but the recognition of a testimony of Christian life, regardless of the role held inside the institution. In Italy and abroad, some seats automatically paved the way to cardinalship. With the appointment of Renato Corti among the newly elected cardinals the Pope followed a different criterion. In other words, access to the cardinalate is not determined by the seat but by pastoral commitment, by dedication to apostolic activity, and even by simple, silent witness, testifying adhesion to the life of the ecclesial community.
Did Francis “disrupt” the rules for the creation of cardinals?
With Francis we are not facing a disruption of the traditional criteria in the creation of new cardinals. There are new cardinals in pastoral structures, within the Roman Curia, in Vatican diplomatic seats… The criteria are the same, but the ways in which the choices have been made are signs of deep transformations:
Francis is a Pope that looks at the substance of the life of the Church. Century-old practices are left behind because the focus is on living the Gospel rather than on traditional procedures.
Mario Zenari is a paradigmatic example of the fact that Francis wants to bring the Church in those places where Gospel witness is of utmost importance, where there is a conflict and where the message of reconciliation and forgiveness holds special significance, thereby highlighting the presence of the Church.
Could it be said that for Francis “synodality” and “collegiality” are increasingly becoming the prominent features in the governance of the Church?
These two words certainly correspond to the indications of Pope Francis, along with two further aspects:
Containment and the end of Eurocentrism – with the College of Cardinals that outlines the profile of an increasingly global Church- along with the special emphasis placed on a “a Church in dialogue” that listens to the voices coming from the peripheries and at grassroots level alike.
The Pope chooses people capable of bringing the voices of their communities inside the Conclave. One such example is Bangui.
In a word: Francis chooses the logic of people.
These people, with Gospel creativity, represent the image of a Church that is open to the men and women of our times, highlighting the Church’s attractiveness.