college of cardinals

Two Years In, Pope Francis Faces Headwinds in Reforming the Vatican. Here’s How He Can Prevail

Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis during the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2014. Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

One reason the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis two years ago on March 13 was a brief but powerful speech the Argentine cardinal made shortly before the conclave in which he denounced the “theological narcissism” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, Francis declared, was “sick” because it was closed in on itself and needed to go out “to the peripheries” and risk all by accompanying the shunned and marginalized.

In these past two years, Francis’ efforts to do just that have captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a wide swath of the Catholic spectrum with visions of a newly resurgent faith unshackled from years of scandal and stagnation.

But there was another big reason the cardinals voted for Bergoglio: They thought the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires was the one man with the administrative chops to finally rein in the dysfunctional papal bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, that was often at the root of the Catholic crisis.

Pope Francis Diversifies His Cardinals. But Will They Have Clout Where It Counts?

Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Cardinals attend a consistory led by Pope Francis as he names 20 new cardinals. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis’ new cardinals, who will be formally installed on Feb. 14, represent everything the pope says he wants for the future of Catholicism: a church that reaches out to the periphery and the margins, and one that represents those frontiers more than the central administration in Rome.

That’s why he picked cardinals for the first time ever from countries like Myanmar and Cape Verde, as well as one from the Pacific archipelago of Tonga, which has just 15,000 Catholics out of a population of 100,000 spread across 176 islands.

The 15 new cardinals who are of voting age — five new “honorary” cardinals are over 80 and ineligible to vote for the next pope — come from 14 countries and include prelates from Ethiopia, Panama, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from places in Europe far removed from the traditional power dioceses of Old World Catholicism.

In fact, only one new cardinal comes from the Roman Curia, the Italian-dominated papal bureaucracy that Francis is struggling to tame in the wake of a series of scandals that revealed a deep dysfunction at Catholicism’s home office.

But will diversifying the College of Cardinals make it look more like the church’s global flock of 1.2 billion members? 

Or will it leave the electors so fragmented by geography, language and viewpoints that they won’t be able to serve as a counterweight to career churchmen in Rome?

Pope Francis Wants ‘Absolute Transparency’ as He Pushes Vatican Reform

Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis leads a consistory at the Vatican on February 12, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis called for a Vatican that operates with “absolute transparency” as he gathered more than 165 cardinals in Rome for high-level meetings aimed at tackling one of the toughest challenges of his reformist papacy: overhauling the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Roman Curia.

The goal, Francis told a lecture hall filled with the scarlet-clad “princes of the church, is to foster “greater harmony” among the different church offices in a bid to foster “absolute transparency that builds authentic … collegiality.”

“Reform is not an end in itself, but a means of bearing a powerful Christian witness,” Francis said.

That was a nod to the scandals that overshadowed the waning years of Benedict XVI’s papacy and undermined the Vatican’s credibility with the public and the dismayed churchmen who had to deal with the fallout.

The two-day gathering with the cardinals – including the 20 new appointees who the pope will officially elevate on Feb. 14– comes almost two years to the day after Benedict stunned the world by announcing that he would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from office.

Pope Francis Is Naming New Cardinals. Will Any Be American?

Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via G

Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via George Martell / The Pilot Media Group / RNS.

The Vatican announced Dec. 11 that Pope Francis will name a new batch of cardinals in February, adding to the select group of churchmen who will someday gather to elect his successor.

Rome won’t reveal the names until next month, but could an American be among them?

There are a number of factors that will govern the choices, and thus the predictions:

First, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, but at the age of 80 a cardinal is no longer allowed to vote in a conclave. That leaves 112 cardinals under the age of 80, as of now, though two more will age out in February and another two in March and April.

The customary ceiling on the number of electors today is 120 (it has changed many times over the centuries). That means that Francis could give a so-called red hat to 10 or 12 bishops.

The pope could also raise the ceiling, or ignore it, as Saint John Paul II often did during his long reign.

Pope Francis' Cardinals Point the Way To Catholicism's Future

Cardinals listen during Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass. Photo: Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

In naming his first batch of new cardinals on Sunday, Pope Francis made some surprising choices that largely confirmed the characteristics he wants in the Catholic Church he leads: a greater focus on the poor, a bigger voice for the Global South and a reduced emphasis on the traditional hierarchical perks.

True to form, Francis wrote each of the new cardinals and stressed that the new title “does not imply promotion.” He asked them to refrain “from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.”

Some had expected Francis to leave his mark by pushing well beyond the ceiling of 120 cardinals under the age of 80 who are eligible to vote in a conclave.

Report Says U.S. Tapped Cardinals’ Phones Ahead of Conclave

Cardinals attend Mass at St. Peter’s before the conclave on March 12, 2013. Via RNS/Courtesy BostonCatholic via Flickr.

The National Security Agency spied on cardinals as they prepared to select the new pope — perhaps including even Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who emerged from last spring’s conclave as Pope Francis, a leading Italian news magazine reported in Wednesday’s editions.

The news magazine Panorama said the same NSA eavesdropping program that angered leaders in Germany, France, Spain, and Mexico also listened in on calls to and from the Vatican, including the phones in the Santa Marta guesthouse that housed Bergoglio and the rest of the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis still lives in the guesthouse, but the magazine did not speculate whether the phones there were still tapped.

Could Pope Francis Make Women Cardinals? A Pipe Dream, and an Opening

Cardinals enter “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, March 12, 2013, at Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”

Pink Smoke Over the Vatican: Prayers to ‘Shatter the Stained-Glass Ceiling’ of Leadership

A Pink Smoke rallier holds a sign during prayers in downtown Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Ted Majdosz.

As cardinals in the Vatican wrapped up the first day of the conclave with no decision on the next pope, a small crowd assembled on the steps of the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle here in Washington, D.C., with signs, a guitar, and fervent prayers that the conclave would usher in a new openness to women in Catholic leadership.

The chilly March wind rose as volunteers passed around flickering candles. “There’s too much Holy Spirit here tonight,” one organizer joked. “We should tell her to tone it down a bit.”

Those assembled were praying for something popes have long opposed: an active recognition of women as decision-makers in the church.

Papal Election is Anyone’s to Win … or Lose

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Cardinals enter mass at St. Peter’s basilica on March 12. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — As 115 cardinal-electors solemnly processed into the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday afternoon, with a cry of “Extra omnes!” and the latest high-tech jamming devices cutting them off from the world, the buzz outside the Vatican over who would eventually emerge as pope grew deafening.

Everyone had theories, many had favorites, and most declared it all so unpredictable that the winner – or even how long it would take to find him – was anybody’s guess.

“We are living through an extraordinary conclave,” Marco Tosatti wrote in La Stampa, the Italian daily whose insider coverage of the pre-conclave meetings read like a tip sheet for papal bookies.

“If we look at the history of conclaves over the last century, never has there been such a range of choices, and such uncertainty over the outcome up to the moment that the doors of the Sistine Chapel closed,” he said.

In fact, the latest lines were varied and morphing all the time, a feast of permutations for Vaticanisti who parse papal elections the way sci-fi geeks deconstruct a new installment of “Star Wars.”

Black Smoke: First Day of Conclave Ends Without New Pope

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

A view of St. Peter’s square on the first day of the conclave. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Black smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel signaled that the first day of the conclave ended without the election of a new pope.

Even if the first-round outcome was largely expected, thousands of people on Tuesday braved the inclement Roman weather to wait for the result of the vote. They slowly filled up St. Peter’s Square as the evening progressed, with their eyes fixed on the small chimney.

Cries of disappointment erupted from the crowd when the black smoke appeared instead of the white smoke that would herald a successful election.

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