New cardinals a ‘tipping point’ for the Church

What happened?

Pope Francis created 14 cardinals in St Peter’s Basilica, telling them that the “highest honour” was to “serve Christ in God’s faithful people”. Credible authority, he said, came from “sitting at the feet of others”, serving those “who are hungry, neglected, imprisoned, sick, suffering, addicted to drugs, cast aside”. The new cardinals came from countries including Pakistan, Madagascar, Iraq and Japan. Three were Vatican churchmen, including doctrinal chief Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

What the vaticanisti are saying

Rocco Palmo, writing at his blog Whispers in the Loggia, said the consistory was a “critical tipping point”, bringing the number of cardinals created by Francis and eligible to vote in a conclave to just shy of half: 59 out of 120. While his predecessors also passed this milestone, Palmo noted, “Francis’s shattering of norms in the identikit of his picks” – in particular, his tendency to avoid elevating the archbishops of major sees – “makes his contributions to the scarlet ranks all the more impactful”. The degree to which the Pope had pressed a “reset button” extending beyond his reign was a “remarkable feat” by itself, he said.

John Allen, writing at the news website Crux, said Francis’s appointments of cardinals had made anticipating the outcome of the next conclave “metaphysically impossible”. While papal elections were rarely predictable, he said, at least in previous years most of the cardinals were known quantities. New prelates from Burkina Faso, Mauritius or Laos were not just unknowns, Allen argued, but “represent cultures and experiences in which the usual issues that preoccupy Western Catholic discussion either don’t count at all, or certainly don’t count for as much”. In Central African Republic, for instance, “tussles over women deacons seem an afterthought” compared with bitter Christian-Muslim violence.

If the 1978 conclave broke the Italian monopoly on the papacy and the 2013 election did the same for the European monopoly, Allen suggested, the next conclave may well break the “monopoly of Western psychology and politics”.

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