More thoughts on Consistory 2014

The creation of cardinals is certainly one of the pope’s most powerful pontifical prerogatives with lasting effects on the Church.  By such an act, he chooses men to collaborate more closely with him in carrying out the Petrine ministry while shaping the electorate that will chose his successor.  Francis nominations to the Sacred College can therefore present to us some idea of his plan for the universal Church, as well as the type of legacy he wants to leave for subsequent generations.  While in the last post we saw a brief introduction to each of the neo-porporati, here we look at some trends within this cohort of cardinals.

1.  Age
The youngest elector in the bunch is 55-year old Chibly Langlois, while Cardinal Quevedo (who turns 75 in March) is the is the eldest.  This means that the Filipino will retain his voting eligibility only for the next five years.  However, given Pope Francis’ age (77) and his not-so-perfect health, it’s not a bad guess to say that we may have another conclave on our hands in relatively short order.  Most if not all of the 16 new electors will have a chance to cast a ballot for the next Bishop of Rome.  Of the curial cardinals, Baldisseri and Stella are also older appointees, aged 73 and 72, respectively.  In addition to them are four diocesan cardinals (Quevedo, Bassetti, Andrello, Andrew Yeom) over the age of 70, less than five years away from the canonically-required submission of resignation; assuming that Francis’ reign will be shorter than Benedict’s, this means that the next pope will have the option of moving Francis’ first cardinals out of important jobs if he sees fit.  By choosing a significant number of older cardinals (especially Stella and Baldisseri), and should this papacy be short, it might seem as if Francis has already mitigated his impact on the future makeup of the Sacred College.

However, if Francis is still in good health for at least the next three years, he may have at least one more chance to radically shift the electorate.  Over the next year, 12 cardinal electors will reach the age of 80 and lose voting rights; this total will rise to 16 one year later, and by the end of 2016, a grand total of 29 electoral slots will have been vacated– truly a rare opportunity for so many signature appointments.

2.  None are priests
John XXIII established a precedent that all appointed Cardinals who were not yet bishops should be consecrated to the episcopacy (Motu proprio Cum gravissima, 1962).  John Paul II codified this requirement when he promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Can. 351 §1).  Nevertheless, the popes since then have granted dispensations from the law, especially in the case of priests who have distinguished themselves in the world of academic theology and who have now reached an advanced age.  Jean Danielou, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar (sadly died before the consistory), Avery Dulles, Karl Joseph Becker, Roberto Tucci, Albert Vanhoye, and Domenico Bartolucci (not a theologian but choirmaster-emeritus of the Sistine Chapel) are some examples of those who received the dispensation from episcopal consecration.

Francis has not chosen to name such any priests to the Sacred College.  Even all the oltreottantenni in this cohort were all long-serving diocesan bishops.  In this way, the pope is reasserting the importance of pastoral administration in the governance of the Church.  He wants his collaborators to be pastors.  As we will see, however, this prediliction for pastorally-minded cardinals has a counterpoint that unfortunately contradicts the image of the Church that Francis wants to present to the world.

3.  Quite a few outsiders…
Of 19 nominees, a whopping 9 are from the developing world : Solorzano (Managua), Kutwa (Abdijan), Tempesta (Rio), Poli (Buenos Aires), Andrello (Santiago de Chile), Ouédraogo (Ouagadougou), Quevedo (Cotabato), Langlois (Les Cayes), and Felix (emeritus of Castries).  This shift toward the Southern Hemisphere signals Francis’ support and encouragement for the Church’s expansion in the developing world; at the same time, it reveals the stark reality of a pattern which Benedict XVI tried so hard to reverse– the de-Christianization of Europe.  Ouédraogo, Quevedo, Langlois, and Felix are the true outsiders, coming from la fine del mondo, or le periferie della Chiesa.  By these nominations, Francis continues a trend (begun by Pius XII in the consistory of 1946 and carried forward ever since) to further globalize the Church by appointing more cardinals outside Europe, forcing other prestigious cardinalatial dioceses to wait even longer for the red hat (e.g., Giovanni Battista Montini of Milan, who had to wait for Pius XII’s death before receiving the porpora).  Today, one can easily list many of the “usual” sees skipped by Francis (and Benedict): Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Venice, Turin, Brussels, Marseille, Edinburgh, Cebu, to name a few.

4.  …but top insiders are still rewarded
In the last post, we looked at Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, whose ambitious careerism stands in stark contrast to Francis’ idea of a model priest.  He is not, however, the only career prelate whose connections spurred his advancement in the hierarchy.  In Italian coverage of Pope Francis’ appointees over the past year, there has been much talk of an apparent rivincita dei diplomatici— the “revenge of the diplomats”.  Let’s get a little background information to what exactly this means.

In the later years of the Cold War, the Pope from Poland needed a robust diplomatic corps to help him forcefully assert the Church’s freedom in lands dominated by atheistic Marxism.  Quickly ridding himself of Paul VI’s last Secretary of State (the ineffective Jean-Marie Villot), he promoted Agostino Casaroli (Undersecretary for Relations with States) to the top job in 1979, where for over a decade he was the face of the Holy See diplomacy.  There Cardinal Casaroli forged a generation of ecclesiastical diplomats trained in the controversial Ostpolitik des Vatikans, in which the doctrinal repudiation of communism was tempered by a willingness to dialogue with Marxist regimes, in order to safeguard the rights of Catholics behind the Iron Curtain.  Men such as Leonardo Sandri, Paolo Romeo, Beniamino Stella, Pietro Parolin, and Lorenzo Baldisseri came of age in the Casaroli era.  Casaroli’s own delfino was a certain Angelo Sodano, who would take over the Secretariat of State in 1990, and is now Dean of the College of Cardinals.

What the men of Ostpolitik des Vatikans failed to realize is that the deals struck by the Holy See with certain Marxist governments meant greater rapproachement between the State and the Church hierarchy on one hand, but also meant a distancing of the Vatican from the outspoken, intellectual, underground Catholic movements on the other hand.  In other words, the most uncompromising and intellectually-sophisticated Catholic groups suffered even more in many cases, especially in Poland.  For this, some historians are puzzled as to why Wojtyla insisted on keeping Casaroli for so long.

As the Berlin Wall fell and Sodano took over, the Ostpolitikers were flush with triumph.  The Barque of Peter had successfully weathered the storm of communism, ushering a new era of freedom for the global Church.  It was natural, therefore, that the veteran diplomats would advance their own men into positions of greater importance.  With no major political movements to tackle, the ’90s began with the ever-increasing decadence and complacency of the Roman Curia.  The failing health of John Paul II in the 2000s meant that his top lieutenant, Sodano (not Ratzinger, as people might think) consolidated a lot of power under himself and other veteran diplomats like Sandri, and this is the root of much of the Curia’s present problems that Benedict tried to stamp out.  The diplomats entrenched in the Vatican had become accustomed to their influence in an ever-expanding bureaucracy.

Enter Benedict XVI.  Expected to be a “caretaker” pope like John XXIII, the career diplomats certainly must have come to regret his election.  Slowly but deliberately, the theologian-pope tried to wean the Curia off the Ostpolitik mindset, favoring (in classic Ratzinger style) radical adherence to the truth of the Gospel in the face of opposing ideologies instead of the Casaroli method.  Benedict tried to slim Curia by combining dicasteries with overlapping competencies while replacing outgoing diplomats at the top with Ratzingeriani, men who had experience in Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as promoters of authentic doctrine.  In time, Marc Ouellet replaced career curialist Giovanni Battista Re at the Cong. for Bishops, Mauro Piacenza took over Cong. for the Clergy, Antonio Canizares Llovera at Divine Worship, etc.  Of course, all this happened after Benedict’s first major change: appointing Tarcisio Bertone to replace Sodano as Secretary of State.  Previously, Bertone had been awarded the cardinalatial see of Genoa after years of loyal service as Secretary of the CDF under Ratzinger.

Of course, Bertone was perhaps the greatest mistake of Benedict’s pontificate.  Theologically and intellectually sound, Bertone nevertheless lacked the administrative skill to both manage the Holy See’s foreign affairs and manage the Curia, and the bureaucracy got worse.  When other loyal Ratzingeriani like Cardinals Meisner (Cologne), Schönborn (Vienna), and Scola (Venice, then Milan) ask Benedict for Bertone’s retirement, it’s clear that qualcosa non funziona— something ain’t right.  In a nutshell, these are the curial problems that Pope Francis is tasked with resolving.

As stated above, we have four true outsiders now named cardinals: Ouédraogo, Quevedo, Langlois, and Felix.  To keep the balance, we have four consummate insiders: Parolin, Stella, Baldisseri, and Müller.  The latter is Ratzingeriano to the bone, having been appointed to the CDF before Francis’ election.  The other three are products of the Sodano secretariat, just a few of many career diplomats promoted under Francis.  Its no secret that Francis has been informally leaning on Sodano’s counsel as the tries to push the reform of the Curia, and it seems the retired Cardinal is once again relishing in his newfound influence.  Adesso le nomine le fa Sodano is often said these days: now Sodano makes the appointments.  The rapid rise of Parolin, Stella, and Baldisseri (in addition to numerous other nominations of lower importance) under Francis surely lends credence to that idea– hence the so-called rivincita dei diplomatici. 

Concluding thoughts
For all Pope Francis’ talk about needing pastors and not bureaucrats, he has rewarded three consummate bureaucrats with some of the most influential positions in the Holy See.  These are not just any ecclesiastical careerists; Parolin, Stella, and Baldisseri belong to the Old Boys’ Club of the diplomatic service, and graduates of the Accademia Ecclesiastica Pontificia (of which Stella later became President).  They have earned the favor of Cardinal Sodano and the Dean of the Sacred College has looked out for them, even now.  Francis’ picks for prestigious assignments signal a minor shift from the Benedictine policy of selecting good, solid theologians who combine pastoral warmth with high intellectual aptitude who, quite frankly, have more pastoral experience than career diplomats.  In a highly public example of promoveatur ut amoveatur (“let him be promoted that he be removed”; promoting somebody to a higher ranking but less influential position), the Ratzingeriano Mauro Piacenza was appointed by Francis as Major Penitentiary, and Stella moved into Piacenza’s old seat at the Congregation for the Clergy.  Before arriving in Rome permanently, Piacenza was a parish priest, a university chaplain, a liason to lay ecclesial movements, and a professor at various educational institutes, interacting directly with the flock of Christ throughout his priesthood.  A quick glance at Stella’s biography, however, reveals something completely different.  We see that he was ordained in 1966 and, after completing studies in Canon Law and diplomacy at the Gregorian and the Accademia, entered the diplomatic service in 1970.  In other words, his bishop (Albino Luciani, later John Paul I) sent him to the Accademia shortly, if not immediately, after his ordination (diplomatic studies last for four years). Stella has never been a pastor in the usual and juridic sense.  Parolin and Baldisseri’s careers likewise lack the usual pastoral experience found in the biographies of many high ecclesiastics (including Bergoglio, Ratzinger, Wojtyla, and Luciani).

How does this square with Francis’ oft-repeated desire that his cardinals and bishops be first and foremost pastors who shine with a strong “priestly identity”?

It could be said that, of the 16 new cardinal-electors, only these three Italians (Parolin, Stella, Baldisseri) are career curialists.  12 of the electors are all diocesan bishops, and the fourth curial man to receive the red hat, Müller, was Bishop of Regensburg for ten years.  The vast power wielded by the curial cardinals will always be tempered by the voting members of the various dicasteries, who are bishops from around the world, many of whom admire the doctrinal clarity and unabashed love for the truth which was a hallmark of Papa Ratzinger’s reign.  It remains to be seen, as suggested by the Council of eight Cardinals that advises Francis on possible curial reforms, whether the Secretariat of State will one day have its influence truncated to focus solely on the Holy See’s foreign affairs, while a separate “secretary-general of the Curia” coordinates inter-dicasterial efforts.  Additionally, Francis has confirmed other Ratzingeriani di ferro in their posts: Ouellet, Llovera, and Amato remain, meaning that Benedict’s legacy, especially in the selection of the world’s bishops, continues under the present pope.

Perhaps we can see a sort of balance: Francis is avoiding the mistake of Paul VI and Benedict XVI, both of whom selected Secretaries of State not apt to the monumental task (Villot and Bertone, respectively; capable pastors in their own right, but weak administrators of the curia).  He is keeping the veteran diplomats, men who know the mechanisms of the curia, close to him as he pushes its reform.  On the other hand, by appointing so many new cardinals from lesser-known dioceses, he is in an authentic sense in making the Sacred College a reflection of the Church universal, with a new found focus on the far flung edges, the periferie of the world.  The reshaping of the Church is beginning now; while things are interesting at present, even more interesting will be the next three to five years– whether we see a mass elevation of (perhaps up to 29) new Cardinal-electors, or whether the Curia will finally be restructured, or whether we have a new Supreme Pontiff altogether.

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