Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"The Long Arms of the Pope" – On Scarlet Eve, It's Now Francis' College

Even if every new intake to the Pope's "Senate" is significant, some Consistories nonetheless have more meaning than others – and as Francis' fifth class of new cardinals, 14 in all, receive the red hat Thursday afternoon, the group represents a critical tipping-point.

Once the designates take their gilded red silk seats among their elders in the College, for the first time, Papa Bergoglio's appointees will hold a solid plurality of the electors in a hypothetical Conclave, his 59 creations younger than 80 comprising just shy of half the now-traditional maximum electorate of 120. members. Yet while prior pontiffs have passed that milestone in turn – in the case of John Paul II, so overwhelmingly that he died with all of three voting members chosen by his predecessors – Francis' shattering of norms in the identikit of his picks makes his contributions to the scarlet ranks all the more impactful, above all as it's one of the few aspects of ecclesial life and the charting of the church's future course that no successor can alter... at least, not overnight.

Of course, one facet of the shift has been completing the project undertaken by Paul VI and duly burnished by John Paul – the broad-scale internationalization of the College, with a dozen countries long on the Catholic "peripheries" either receiving their first-ever cardinal or the first in quite some time under Francis; among other examples, in the case of Scandinavia, a situation unknown since before the Reformation.

But given the reality that the cardinals don't merely elect the next Pope – one of them will be the next Pope – what's arguably the bigger element of the change is the lone quality that links this pontificate's kaleidoscope of choices across the board: their collective embodiment (at least, in Francis' judgment) of the "pastoral conversion" he sees as the sine qua non of ministry in the modern church.

What that entails for the future will only fully reveal itself with time. For now, though, the degree to which it's already prepared a "reset button" extending beyond Bergoglio's reign – in some cases, one that'll stretch for decades – is a remarkable feat all its own.

* * *
By centuries-old tradition, the Popes have considered the cardinals "Pars corporis nostri" – "Part of our body" – the concept fleshed out both in the ancient role of the College's members as legates to places the pontiffs couldn't personally go, and the "body" from which a new Bishop of Rome is generated. Yet just as creating new cardinals "expands the body" as well as reshaping it, together with tomorrow's new class, Francis has taken a deeper added step at forming the College in his own image and likeness with an enduring effect.

In a formal rescript issued yesterday, the Pope made the biggest change to the structure of his "Senate" since the post-Conciliar reforms of Paul VI, adding the Curia's top four current cardinals to the Order of Bishops.

Historically the heads of the six suffragan dioceses of Rome, until the 1960s the cardinal-bishops – led by the College's dean – didn't merely hold the titles to the posts but were literally expected to oversee their respective outlying churches; in the decades since, full-time bishops have been named to do the work. At that same time, Eastern patriarchs given the red hat were added to the rank.

By adding four more Latin cardinals to the College's front row – the Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and the prefects of the Eastern Churches (Leonardo Sandri), Bishops (Marc Ouellet) and Propaganda Fide (Fernando Filoni) – the move's real significance again lies beyond this pontificate. Had a Conclave convened without the additions, as all the current cardinal-bishops are aged out of the election, the senior voter presiding over a papal election would've been the Maronite Patriarch, Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Raï, now 78. With the change, Parolin, 63 – a figure who's increasingly consolidated his clout as Francis' indispensable, near-omnipresent top deputy – now takes precedence and will oversee the voting process.

What's more, however, the change paves the way to another key aspect of succession-planning. As the cardinal-dean regardless of his electoral status leads the general congregations preceding a Conclave and, all told, effectively serves as the "administrator" of the Roman church during a papal vacancy, the new cardinal-bishops join the pool which'll elect a new dean and from which he will be chosen once the office falls vacant.

Though that process is always significant with an eye to an interregnum, it's increasingly so under current circumstances given the controversy surrounding the current dean, 90 year-old Cardinal Angelo Sodano – John Paul's heavily influential Secretary of State – who's endured years of blistering criticism over his treatment of high-profile sex abuse cases, most recently in Chile, where he served as Nuncio before returning to the Curia in 1990 and has maintained an outsize profile given his closeness to the country's embattled hierarchy. Along these lines, then, with the new cardinal-bishops Francis has sped up the clock on what happens in his wake, likely with an eye to having one of his own appointees take complete control of his succession.

Again, it'll be a while yet before that storyline comes to full light, but yesterday's step makes for a major building-block toward it.

In the meantime, the elevation of Cardinal-designate Angelo Becciu alongside his new post as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints means that one major puzzle-piece for the present remains to be filled: Francis' choice of the Sardinian's successor as Sostituto of the Secretariat of State – essentially the Vatican equivalent of the White House Chief of Staff.

A lifelong diplomat who most notably served as Nuncio to Cuba before taking up the Curia's "nerve-center" post under Benedict XVI, as Becciu ceases as Parolin's deputy upon his receipt of the red hat, the choice of his replacement in the all-important role is expected within very short order.

* * *
Simply because not each of its picks can be covered equally, every Consistory has its "star" – the new cardinal who, whether by historic novelty or personal attributes, becomes the center of gravity around which the story of the moment is viewed by the wider world.

In this case, that's a particular fait accompli – and, unusually, one which belongs to the intake's Curial contingent: given his already high profile as Francis' "man in the street," this time around the spotlight belongs to "Don Corrado," Polish Cardinal-designate Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who becomes that office's first modern head to don the red hat.

A Vatican lifer from his early recruitment under John Paul II – notably brought to Rome by the saint's polarizing MC, now-Archbishop Piero Marini – Francis made clear his affection for and confidence in Krajewski (pron. "Cro-YEV-ski") from the very outset, bucking protocol to crash the latter's 2013 ordination as archbishop wearing just his white cassock and a stole, sitting among the concelebrants so he could join in for the laying on of hands (above).

More recently, in his latest interview – last week with Reuters, the first English-language wire service to land a papal sit-down – Papa Bergoglio raised the stakes even further, describing the Almoner's office as being on a par with the CDF (for centuries, the Curia's "supreme" organ), depicting the duo's respective works of teaching and charity as "the two long arms of the pope." (Of course, tomorrow will likewise see the elevation of the new CDF prefect, the Jesuit Luis Ladaria.)

For his part, in a distinct rarity among Francis' choices, Don Corrado received a heads-up that he "should listen to the Regina Caeli" at which his name would be announced among the new cardinals; at the time, the 55 year-old – by far this crop's youngest member – was riding his bike to his ground-floor Vatican office to prepare a food delivery later that Sunday to the poor on the edges of Rome.

Since learning that he'd be joining the College, and thus completing one of the hierarchy's most meteoric ascents in recent times, Krajewski has admitted to interviewers that the Pope's decision has come as a frustration, fearing that the "complications" of being a cardinal could prove an obstacle to his work, much of it spent directly aiding the homeless on the city's streets under cover of night – many, if not most of whom, he knows by name.

Yet at the same time, talking with La Stampa's Andrea Tornielli as the reality began to sink in, the Pope's lead field-marshal against a "throwaway culture" hit on the significance of his place in the mix... one which extends well beyond himself:
"It's almost as if Francis is wanting to say [that] those who take seriously the words of Jesus in the Gospel – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the prisoner, receive the stranger – these are my principal collaborators."
And if that doesn't put Francis' "revolution" of governance in remaking the role of cardinals in its fullest light, then nothing ever will.