June 1, 2018


New cardinals from 11 nations show universality of Church

On June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis will elevate 14 Church leaders from 11 diverse nations—Iraq, Spain, Italy, Poland, Pakistan, Portugal, Peru, Madagascar, Japan, Mexico and Bolivia—to the College of Cardinals. The pope’s choices confirm his commitment to broaden the base of those who will elect his successor and, in so doing, more closely reflect the universality of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis is following—and expanding—a tradition that began in the 12th century when the first cardinals were selected from outside Rome. Prior to this, all cardinals were local prelates who served the Church of Rome. Even today, regardless of where they live, all cardinals are given titular assignments within the Diocese of Rome as a sign of their participation in the pope’s pastoral care for his diocese. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, former archbishop of Indianapolis, for example, was given the Roman parish of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale as his titular church.

The profession of faith and oath of fidelity professed by new cardinals binds them in obedience to the successor of St. Peter, and commits them “always to remain in communion with the Catholic Church.”

So, while each cardinal has a special relationship to the Bishop of Rome and his local Church, there is a clear sense that a cardinal’s responsibility is to help the pope in his ministry to the worldwide Catholic community, the Church universal. That’s one important reason why Pope Francis is looking for cardinals whose perspective is not narrowly limited by the points of view of established regions or cultures.

In the process, some dioceses that have traditionally been led by cardinals—for example Venice and Milan in Italy or Baltimore and Philadelphia in the United States—are not represented among the dioceses chosen as the residence of one who will elect the next pope. This should not be seen as a commentary on the diocese or its current bishop. It’s simply the pope’s way of reaching out to local churches that are historically and culturally distant (for example, Iraq and Pakistan, Japan and Madagascar) to include them in his governance of the universal Church.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law proscribes that “those to be promoted Cardinals are freely selected by the Roman Pontiff who are at least in the order of priesthood and are truly outstanding for doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters; those who are not already bishops must receive Episcopal consecration” (Can 351.1).

Church history shows that these norms have not always been strictly observed, and that some cardinals have abused their authority by preferring immense wealth, worldly pleasure and political power to the humble service that “doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters” demands. This may in and of itself be a good reason to diversify membership in the College of Cardinals—to help ensure that no one who wears the red hat or the cardinal’s ring is tempted to feel entitled to special privilege as a Prince of the Church.

Three of the pope’s nominees, Archbishop Sergio Obeso Rivera, the retired Archbishop of Xalapa, Mexico; Bishop Toribio Ticona Poro, retired prelate of Corocoro, Bolivia; and Spanish Claretian Father Aquilino Bocos Merino, are over the age limit and will not be permitted to vote for the next pope. Their selection as cardinals is the pope’s way of honoring them and recognizing their distinguished service to the Church.

When the 14 new Cardinals are invested on June 29, the College of Cardinals will have expanded beyond the limit of 120 established by Blessed Pope Paul VI to 125. Other popes have exceeded this limit over the years without feeling the need to change the acceptable number formally, but it’s interesting to note that in just five years, Pope Francis has appointed nearly half the number of Cardinals (59 who are currently under the voting age limit of 80) who presumably will elect his successor. This means that the current pope’s style and influence will almost certainly be a factor in the selection of the new pope.

Let’s pray for Pope Francis and for all those chosen by him to join the College of Cardinals, that their ministry serve both the Church of Rome and the universal Church in continuity with St. Peter and all the Apostles appointed by our Lord to guide and direct the people of God as good shepherds and humble servants. And may they carry out their new responsibilities as responsible stewards of the mysteries of God.

—Daniel Conway

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