Pope Enters 'Crucial New Phase' for Church

Francis appoints 21 new cardinals to help him enact his reforms, cement his legacy
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 30, 2023 10:45 AM CDT
Pope Enters 'Crucial New Phase' for Church
Pope Francis arrives at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals at a ritual-filled ceremony Saturday, including key figures at the Vatican and in the field who will help enact his reforms and cement his legacy as he enters a crucial new phase in running the Catholic Church. On a crisp sunny day filled with cheers from St. Peter's Square, Francis further expanded his influence on the College of Cardinals who will one day elect his successor. With Saturday's additions, nearly three-quarters of the voting-age "princes of the church" owe their red hats to the Argentine Jesuit. In his instructions to the new cardinals at the start of the service, Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, where sometimes they play solos, sometimes as an ensemble, per the AP. Speaking of himself, Francis said the orchestra's conductor "has to listen more than anyone else."

"Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable," Francis told them. "However, each sound must contribute to the common design. This is why mutual listening is essential: Each musician must listen to the others." Among the new cardinals were the controversial new head of the Vatican's doctrine office, Victor Manuel Fernandez, and the Chicago-born missionary now responsible for vetting bishop candidates around the globe, Robert Prevost. Also entering the exclusive club were the Vatican's ambassadors to the United States and Italy, two important diplomatic posts where the Holy See has a keen interest in reforming the church hierarchy. Leaders of the church in geopolitical hot spots like Hong Kong and Jerusalem; fragile communities like Juba, South Sudan; and sentimental favorites like Cordoba, Argentina, filled out the roster.

The ceremony took place days before Francis opens a big meeting of bishops and lay Catholics on charting the church's future, where hot-button issues such as women's roles in the church, LGBTQ+ Catholics, and priestly celibacy are up for discussion. The Oct. 4-29 synod is the first of two sessions—the second one comes next year—that could cement Francis' legacy as he seeks to make the church a place where all are welcomed. With Saturday's ceremony, Francis will have named 99 of the 137 cardinals who are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a future conclave to elect his successor. Such a huge proportion of Francis-nominated cardinals almost ensures that a future pope will either be one of his own cardinals or one who managed to secured their votes to lead the church after Francis is gone, suggesting a certain continuity in priorities.

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Among the new cardinals is Fernandez, known as the "pope's theologian" and perhaps Francis' most consequential Vatican appointment in his 10-year pontificate. It was a much-debated decision, as Fernandez has admitted he made mistakes handling a case while bishop in La Plata, Argentina. On the eve of the consistory to make Fernandez a cardinal, clergy abuse survivors, including a La Plata victim, rallied near the Vatican, calling on Francis to rescind the nomination. "No bishop who has covered up child sex crimes and ignored and dismissed victims of clergy abuse in his diocese should be running the office that oversees, investigates, and prosecutes clergy sex offenders from around the world, or be made a cardinal," said La Plata survivor Julieta Anazco, per a statement from End Clergy Abuse.

(More cardinals stories.)

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