Pope Francis on Sunday named 17 new cardinals, including three Americans, adding prelates from developing countries to give them a greater voice in selecting the next pope. Francis’ American appointments elevate moderates in the church hierarchy, bypassing doctrinal conservatives from large archdioceses.
The three Americans, the most Francis named from any one country, are Archbishops Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and a former Dallas bishop, Kevin Farrell, whom Francis recently reassigned to the Vatican to lead a new department for family, laity and life. Francis had skipped over the United States in two previous rounds of appointments. The pope announced the new cardinals from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of a special Mass on Sunday, saying their diversity represents “the universality of the church” and “the mercy of God in every corner of the world.” He said he will elevate the cardinals on Nov. 19. The group includes men from five countries that had never before had a cardinal: Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Francis also named as cardinal the Vatican envoy to Syria, a signal of the church’s concern for that war-ravaged country. Other appointees are from Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Mauritius, Mexico, Italy and Albania. Thirteen of the new cardinals, including the Americans, are younger than 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect the next pope. Francis has now selected about 40 percent of the 120 cardinals who are currently eligible to choose his successor. American electoral politics is never a determining factor in the selection of cardinals. But all three American picks have been outspoken opponents of Republican Party positions at a time when the United States church hierarchy is often seen as an ally of the party because of mutual opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Archbishop Tobin insisted that his archdiocese would continue to resettle Syrian refugees in Indiana, despite attempts to bar them by Gov. Mike Pence, Donald J. Trump’s running mate on the Republican ticket. Bishop Farrell is among the few prelates in the United States to issue emphatic pleas for gun control, a surprising move for a bishop based in the open-carry state of Texas. And Archbishop Cupich, in an archdiocese populated with immigrants from many countries, has become a prominent advocate of overhauling immigration law, a position held by the United States bishops’ conference. On internal church matters, all three American appointees have indicated they support Francis’ efforts to set a tone that is more pastoral than judgmental toward women, gays and Catholics who have divorced and remarried. Alejandro Bermúdez, a journalist from Peru who is the executive director of the Catholic News Agency, a conservative-leaning outlet, said, “The pope is making sure that his successor follows his line of thought.” Mr. Bermúdez said the pope was promoting prelates from many smaller dioceses — not only in the United States, but also in Venezuela and Mexico — who are “the classic Pope Francis-type of bishops.” “They aren’t so interested in leading cultural battles, but more in doing pastoral work,” Mr. Bermúdez said. “The pope is convinced that the cultural wars are not going to bring anything but further misunderstanding and defeats for the Catholic Church,” especially since even many practicing Catholics do not share the church’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. Archbishop Tobin, who previously served in the Vatican, became known there as a supporter of American nuns who were being investigated by other Vatican officials on claims of deviating from church doctrine — an inquiry some American bishops had encouraged. At a Catholic women’s conference in Indiana this weekend, Archbishop Tobin said he was “hopeful” that women could become deacons, a possibility now being studied by a Vatican committee appointed by the pope. The selection of Archbishop Tobin surprised church observers, and apparently the bishop himself. In a Twitter message posted on Sunday, Archbishop Tobin said: “I’m shocked beyond words by the decision of the Holy Father. Please pray for me.” Francis bypassed archdioceses accustomed to having cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave, including Venice, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. With Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, having turned 80 in February, many had expected Francis to elevate Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, an immigrant from Mexico who is a strong advocate for immigrants. He would have been the only Latino cardinal in the United States church, where the Latino presence is growing. Philadelphia had hosted a festive and successful visit for Francis last year. But its archbishop, Charles J. Chaput, has been an uninhibited critic of Francis on doctrinal matters, expressing concern that his leadership has confused the church by leaving open the prospect that priests may give communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. *As published on Sunday 9th October, 2016 in the New York Times