A Vatican Observer 2020, all Pope Francis’ men

CNA 5dc0d29ca8189 169919 Pope Francis walks through St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday general audience on Oct. 30, 2019 /

2020 seems to be the year in which Pope Francis will be able to change the Curia profoundly, along with the profile of the worldwide episcopate. Many cardinal-archbishops holding major sees will turn 75 - the retirement age for a serving bishop - and many others already have. The same is true in the Roman Curia.

Then, the much-awaited reform of the Roman Curia should be out in the first half of 2020. It "should" be out: nothing is guaranteed. The draft of the reform is still under review. The draft was forwarded to the bishops conferences from all over the world for extensive consultation and received hundreds of amendments and suggestions.

Retirements in the Curia 

Among the ones who will turn 75 during this year, there is Cardinal Robert Sarah: the prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments will get to the retirement age on June 15. Pope Francis put him at the helm of the Congregation in 2014, so even his five-year term is already expired.

Cardinal Sarah had also been president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, now absorbed in the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. His ability to govern the CDW has also been reduced, with the wholesale replacement of senior staff and membership a couple of years ago. Pope Francis might even decide simply not to renew Sarah's mandate, as he did with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  

According to the drafts of the Curia reform, the top-ranking positions in the Curia will be assigned on a five-year term basis, renewable only once. This reform was anticipated by the reform of the office of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, which has been until now a life-post.

Assuming Cardinal Sarah and others are still in office when he does turn 75, there will be five out of nine prefects of a Vatican congregation beyond 75. The other ones are Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who turned 75 last June; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also 75 since June 2019; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for the Catholic Education, who is 76; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, also 76.

Cardinal Versaldi's successor will be leading the dicastery for Education, which will include the Pontifical Council for the Culture. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council, is already 77. Pope Francis had renewed Ravasi until he's 80, but things can change with a new dicastery.

In his Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis let it be understood that there will be changes for  the CDF , as well. For now, by the way, Cardinal Ladaria - a Jesuit -should remain in the top spot.

There will be a reshuffle of the secretaries of the Vatican dicasteries.

On January 5th, Archbishop Joel Mercier, secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, turns 75. On March the first, archbishop Fernando Vergez Alzaga will turn 75, too. Archbishop Vergez was chosen by Pope Francis as number 2 of the Vatican City State administration, with a special task to consider the spiritual needs of the Vatican employees. His replacement will change an era.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia will turn 75 on April 20. Paglia is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and chancellor of the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II for the Studies on Marriage and Family. At the moment, there are no rumors about a possible successor of Archbishop Paglia.

How the College of Cardinals will change

There will be changes in the College of Cardinals, too. Pope Francis has profoundly reshaped the college of Cardinals. He has created 88 cardinals  from 55 different countries. Cardinals not yet 80 years-of-age are eligible to vote in a conclave. Pope Francis has created 67 out of the 124 Cardinals currently eligible to vote, which is the 52.3 percent of the total.

During 2020, there will be four cardinals who will turn 80, thus losing their right to vote in a Conclave.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, will turn 80 on Feb. 25. Cardinal Agostino Vallini will turn 80 on April 17: he has been the Pope's vicar for the diocese of Rome, and he is currently pontifical legate for the Papal basilicas in Assisi.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri will turn 80 on September 29. He will also leave the position of General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, as Pope Francis already appointed a pro-general secretary, Bishop Mario Grech.

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The last cardinal who will turn 80 during 2020 is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, DC.

By the end of 2020, the cardinals eligible to vote in a Conclave will then be 120, which is the maximum limit set to Paul VI. Pope Francis might then also decide not to celebrate another consistory for the creation of cardinals.

However, Pope Francis has held  one consistory per year throughout his pontificate, and he would likely give out another batch of red hats  in 2020: it would be his seventh consistory.  

The College of Cardinals is structured in three orders, or ranks: the order of "cardinal deacons," the order of "cardinal priests," and the order of "cardinal bishops."

There are customarily six cardinal bishops from the Latin Church, who are given a particular ceremonial title as the "titular bishops" of Rome's ancient suburbicarian sees. 

The dean of the College of Cardinals is also assigned as titular bishop of the Roman see of Ostia.

Pope Francis expanded the order of Cardinal Bishops, but still, the titles of the suburbicarian sees must be assigned. After the passing away of Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in September 2019, the title of Porto Santa Rufina is vacant and will be assigned.

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Eight cardinals will be likely promoted to the order of priests since they have been for ten years "Cardinal Deacons".

These Cardinals are: Walter Brandmueller, Francesco Monterisi, Angelo Amato, Gianfranco Ravasi, Mauro Piacenza, Robert Sarah, Raymond Leo Burke and Kurt Koch.

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino always rejected a "promotion" to the rank of cardinal priest, and so he stayed in the order of the deacons. He is the Cardinal proto-deacon, which is the cardinal in charge of announcing to the world the name of the new Pope after the Conclave.

Although Martino is beyond 80 and will not take part in a future conclave, he still might announce the Pope since, after the election, the Conclave is formally over.

Archbishops and "cardinalatial" positions 

Pope Francis will be called to do a reshuffle in some important dioceses of the world, too.

For Italy, it is noteworthy that in 2020 Cardinals Angelo Bagnasco and Crescenzio Sepe will end their mandates as archbishop of Genoa and Naples, respectively. Pope Francis renewed their mandate for two years, which will end  during 2020. Both Bagnasco and Sepe turned 75 two years ago.

Who will replace them? Rumors speak about a Papal preference for two Jesuits: Fr. Giacomo Costa could become the archbishop of Genoa and Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the archbishop of Naples.

Fr. Costa is the editor of Aggiornamenti Sociali, a lively magazine of the Italian Jesuits on the social teaching of the Church. Fr. Costa gained visibility as special secretary to the Synod of Bishops, first during the assembly on young people, and as then as secretary to the commission for information during the recent Pan-Amazonian synod assembly.

Fr. Spadaro is the director of La Civiltà Cattolica, and he is understood to have the pope's ear.

There are currently 20 Cardinals in charge of an archdiocese who are beyond 80. By the end of 2020, there will be 27. None of the new Cardinals who will reach the retirement age has a coadjutor with the right of succession.

The Spanish situation is the most critical one. Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez, archbishop of Valladolid, is 77. Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, Archbishop of Madrid, will turn 75 on May 16. Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, archbishop of Valencia, will get to the retirement age on October 15. Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona, will turn 75 on 2021.

Spanish archdiocese will therefore be subjected to a significant generational change.

The other to-be-75 cardinals are mostly from Europe, but there are also two from Asia and one from Africa.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna (Austria), will turn 75 on January 22, and is in very ill health. On January 25, Cardinal Philippe Nakellantuba Ouedraogo will get to the retirement age: he is the archbishop of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).

Cardinal Vincent Gerard Nichols, archbishop of Westminster (England), will be 75 on November 8, while Cardinal Vinko Puljic, archbishop of Sarajevo, will do on September 8.

In Asia: Cardinal Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, will reach the retirement age on July 21;. Cardinal George Alencherry will be 75 by the end of the year. However, his position is that of the major archbishop of Ernakulam – Angamaly of Siro-Malabanan, one without an age limit.


There are two Papal nuncios supposed to retire in 2020: archbishop George Kocherry, apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh, and Archbishop Alain Charles Lebeaupin, apostolic nuncio to the European Union.

On January 2, archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Tot, apostolic nuncio to Sri Lanka, resigned at the age of 70. The nunciature to Colombo is thus currently vacant, as they are those to Angola, Argentina, Burkina Faso, Belarus, Ivory Coast, Guatemala, Jordan / Iraq, Philippines, Ghana, Malaysia / East Timor, and Zimbabwe.

It is expected for 2020 a more extensive rotation of Papal ambassadors, with the inclusion of new nuncios and diplomats.

Archbishop Joseph Marino, president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy since October 11 of last year, will have the task of providing new ambassadors.

The Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy is the Vatican school for ambassadors, and its president must choose every year a dozen priests to enroll into the Holy See diplomatic service. 

Archbishop Marino is called to overcome the crisis of the Academy. Because of a lack of vocations, Bishops present fewer candidates. Many potential candidates for the diplomatic service are stuck because they can access to the academy only from the age of 33 on. This is a problem for papal diplomacy, as there are fewer apostolic nuncios. 

In the end, during this year, Pope Francis might carry forward a real  shakeup in the Curia, in some crucial positions in archdioceses all over the world, and in the College of Cardinals. After 2020, we may finally be able to see who all Pope Francis' men are.

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