April 23, 2019

Pope Francis, consistory and Curia reform set for June?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Vatican City - November 19, 2016: Pope Francis elevates 17 new cardinals during the November 19, 2016 consistory in St. Peter's Basilica - credit: Daniel Ibanez / ACI Group
Vatican City - November 19, 2016: Pope Francis elevates 17 new cardinals during the November 19, 2016 consistory in St. Peter's Basilica - credit: Daniel Ibanez / ACI Group

By the end of June, Pope Francis could not only finalize the Curia reform. We are still in the field of speculation, but there are clues that Pope Francis will also convoke a consistory to create new Cardinals on June 28-29. This way, Pope Francis will give his final imprint to the composition of the college of cardinals and, as a consequence, to the future conclave that will elect his successor. 

The first clue is that the next meeting of the Council of Cardinals will take place on June 25-27. The Council of Cardinals customarily gathered every two months, on the first or second week of the month. It is the first time they gather at the end of the month. 

Immediately after the Council was scheduled, a source involved in the works of Curia reform told CNA that “the meeting of the Council was scheduled at the end of June given a possible consistory.”

According to the same source, it is likely that the consistory for the creation of new Cardinals will be preceded by an extraordinary consistory to discuss the Curia reform.

Pope Francis does not convoke extraordinary consistories since the 2015 Consistory. 

The Feb. 22, 2014 consistory was preceded by an extraordinary consistory on the issues of the family, opened with a speech from Cardinal Walter Kasper that set the tone of the discussion ahead of the two synods on the family.

The Feb. 14-15, 2015 consistory for the creation of new Cardinals was preceded by an extraordinary consistory to discuss Curia reform. 

After that, Pope Francis did not convoke any other extraordinary consistory to discuss issues of mutual interest.

Extraordinary consistories also gave the Cardinals to know each other better. 

Pope Francis has created 73 cardinals since the beginning of the pontificate, and 57 of them are eligible to vote in a conclave – only Cardinals below 80 are eligible to vote in a conference. 

Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, archbishop emeritus of Krakow, will turn 80 on Apr. 27 and since then he will not be eligible to vote in a Conclave. 

Since Apr. 27, the Cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be 120, the maximum limit of cardinals voting in a conference set by St. Paul VI. 

During 2019, other Cardinals will turn 80. They are John Tong Hon; Sean Baptist Brady; Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya; Zenon Grocholewski; Edoardo Menichelli; Telesphore Placidus Toppo. 

By the end of the year, there will be just 114 cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. For this reason, it seemed more likely that the Pope was going to convoke a consistory in November, rather than in June. It seems now that Pope Francis will anticipate time. 

As per June 29, there will be 57 voting cardinals created by Pope Francis, 44 created by Benedict XVI and 19 created by St. John Paul II. Pope Francis has then created a little more than 47 % of voting cardinals. 

This quota will increase, and Pope Francis will give its final imprint to the college of Cardinals

Will Pope Francis follow the traditional criteria in delivering the red birettas? Nobody knows. 

In general, there are just a few dioceses that are traditionally a cardinalatial seat with a Cardinal Archbishop (there are exceptions, like Barcelona). On the other hand, some dioceses and countries were granted red birretta because of their particular situation.

The main question is whether Pope Francis will give the red hat to Archbishop Wilton Gregory, just appointed at the helm of the Archdiocese of Washington, and to Archbishop José Gomez, who leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 2011. 

If custom would be followed, Archbishop Gomez should get it, as his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, is 83 and so he is not eligible to vote in a conclave anymore. On the other hand, Archbishop Gregory should wait for 2020, when his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, will turn 80. It is generally preferred not to have the same archdiocese represented by two cardinals in a conclave. 

But Pope Francis' consistories have never been customary. 

Pope Francis celebrated an average of one consistory per year. After five consistories, there are 87 countries represented in the conclave, following the rationale that all the possible geographic areas need to be represented. 

It is speculated that Pope Francis might also formally expand the maximum limit of voting Cardinals in a conclave. 

Paul VI set the limit to 120 voting Cardinals, but the limit was not mandatory. John Paul II exceeded this limit, and also Pope Francis did. Now, Pope Francis could institutionalize the decision to expand the maximum limit to 130 or 140 voting cardinals. 

The consistory and the new composition of the college of cardinals must be considered along with Curia reform.  

According to the Spanish magazine Vida Nueva, Pope Francis might sign on June 29 the new apostolic constitution that regulates functions and tasks of Curia offices. 

The new constitution is title Praedicate Evangelium, “Preach the Gospel.” Other sources confirmed to CNA that the Pope is willing to sign the new constitution on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. 

For this reason, dicasteries and bishops conferences who received the draft were asked to give a feedback within May.

Feedbacks will be then discussed and harmonized in the new constitution by Bishop Marco Mellino, adjunct secretary to the Council of Cardinals. 

According to Vida Nueva, the new constitution is going to create a super- Vatican dicastery on Evangelization. 

The dicastery would come out of the merging of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization. 

There will also be a dicastery of Papal charity, that will absorb the office of the Papal Almoner. 

The establishment of a dicastery for Papal charity could be glimpsed by Pope Francis’ choice to create a Cardinal Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, Papal almoner, in the June 2018 consistory. 

Speaking with Reuters on June 2018, Pope Francis said: “It think there are two long arms of the pope - that of being custodian of the faith, and there the work is done by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the prefect has to be a cardinal.”

The Pope also told Reuters that the heads of the Office of Papal charities will always be cardinals.

It is still not clear whether this new dicastery will absorb the functions of the former Pontifical Council Cor Unum, that merged into the Dicastery for the Service of the Integral Human Development. 

The dicastery is now taking care of delivering Papal aids and coordinating Catholic relief service all over the world. With Cor Unum, the dicastery also inherited the oversight on Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization to 164 Catholic relief agencies all over the world. 

Praedicate Evangelii is also supposed to abolish the distinction between Congregations and Pontifical Councils among the Curia offices. 

The Congregations are dicasteries that collaborate with the Pope in governing the Church, while the Pontifical Councils have mostly the task of promoting some specific subjects. 

Both of them are dicasteries of the Roman Curia. First in the rank of dicasteries is the Secretariat of State, followed by Congregations, Pontifical Tribunals, and Pontifical Councils.

At the beginning of the reform, it seemed that other offices with specific tasks were going to be elevated to the rank of the Secretariat of State, as the establishment of the Secretariats for the Economy and Communication suggested. 

If Vida Nueva is right, it was then decided that all the Vatican dicasteries will be named as “dicastery,” thus dropping the distinction between Congregations and Pontifical Councils. 

This decision was glimpsed when the Secretariat for Communication changed its name into “dicastery for communication.” It is likely that also the Secretariat for the Economy will become a “dicastery for the Economy.” 

The Pope also established the dicasteries for Laity, Family and Life and for the Service of the Integral Human Development. They are all chaired by a prefect, which might mean that all of the head of dicasteries will be prefects. 

The Secretariat of State will thus keep a central role in the Curia offices, while initially it was even thought that the Secretariat could be divided into two different offices, with a governing body of four secretariats. 

In the end, many things have changed since the early discussions on the reform. In the meantime, Pope Francis has been working to change the profile of bishops and the composition of the College of Cardinals. 

On June 29, these changes might get a final shape, and Pope Francis’ plan should be finally disclosed in its entirety. 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.