What the cardinals’ profiles reveal
Pope Francis underlined the theme of the family by giving a red hat to Bishop Oscar Cantoni of Como, northern Italy, who was among the first to apply the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, in the sense of granting, under certain conditions, Communion to the divorced and remarried.
It is worth noting that Cantoni’s name has come up at two Vatican trials. One concerned alleged abuse in the Vatican pre-seminary. The bishop was questioned because it was he who ordained Father Gabriele Martinelli, a priest who was acquitted at the trial. Cantoni also featured in the Vatican finance trial, because Cardinal Angelo Becciu is alleged to have turned to him to put pressure to stop the flow of testimonies from Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a priest of the Como diocese who is today one of the key witnesses.
The pope, however, trusts Cantoni. And perhaps he also wanted to send a message to Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan, who is currently facing accusations of covering up abuse.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille will be the first French residential prelate to receive the red hat from Pope Francis.
In April 2021, Aveline met the pope and proposed a papal visit to Marseille to develop a sort of “theology of the Mediterranean” that the pope launched with his journey to Lampedusa in 2013 and continued to shape with a trip to Naples in 2015.
Aveline presented the idea of a Mediterranean pilgrimage to the pope and also launched the idea of an extraordinary synod for the Mediterranean. The pope seems to prefer this idea to the “Mediterranean frontier of peace” initiative launched by the Italian bishops’ conference. Therefore, the choice of Aveline not only affects the French episcopate but also gives a clear signal to the Italian one.
Among the new cardinals there is also Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke of Ekwulobia, in southeastern Nigeria. He was appointed bishop of Ahiara by Benedict XVI in 2012 but was unable to settle in the diocese because local Catholics demanded a bishop of another ethnicity. Pope Francis described the situation as “unacceptable” and even considered suppressing the diocese. In 2020, he appointed Okpakele as the first bishop of Ekwulobia. His appointment sends a clear message: one cannot oppose the will of the pope regarding episcopal appointments and, above all, it cannot be done for ethnic reasons.
Another significant sign is the red hat awarded to Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who was reportedly considered a possible candidate to lead the Church in Washington, D.C. McElroy represents the most conciliatory line among the U.S. bishops regarding Communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In 2019, Francis named McElroy one of two Americans to attend the Amazon synod.
The Brazilian Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner of Manaus was also at the forefront during the synod. His creation as cardinal is undoubtedly linked to his work for the Church in the Amazon: the 77-year-old Franciscan is vice president of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon.
Another new cardinal, Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão of Goa, India, was named a bishop by John Paul II in 1993. He is currently president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India.
Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, 60, also comes from India. He will be the first Dalit to become a cardinal, giving a solid signal to Indian society.
Also named a cardinal is Archbishop Virgílio do Carmo Da Silva of Dili, East Timor. Pope Francis had elevated Dili to a metropolitan archdiocese in 2019 and giving the red hat to the first archbishop is a vital sign of attention.
Archbishop Paulo Cezar Costa of Brasilia, 54, is the fourth archbishop of the Brazilian capital to become a cardinal after Cardinal José Freire Falcão, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, and Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha.
Also named cardinals are Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Wa, Ghana, the 62-year-old former superior general of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers,) and Archbishop William Goh of Singapore, 64, who has led the Asian archdiocese since 2013. Their appointments meet the criteria of worldwide representation.
Bishop Giorgio Marengo, the apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, is a Consolata missionary who has been a bishop since 2020. At 47, he will become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
As mentioned, the cardinal electors are particularly important. And so, the red hat arrives for the Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Pope Francis’ troubleshooter and key man in all the most complex canonical situations. The 79-year-old Ghirlanda presented Praedicate evangelium after its publication, and he was positioned next to the pope at an interdicasterial meeting in May.
Bishop Lucas Van Looy, the 80-year-old emeritus bishop of Ghent, Belgium, is another of the new cardinals created by Pope Francis, who insisted on his presence at the 2015 family synod. His positions at the synod sought a synthesis, but he is considered an exponent of the progressive wing at home.
The red birretta for him is a further slap in the face for Archbishop André-Joseph Leonard, who led the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels from 2010 to 2015. His predecessor, Godfried Danneels, was a cardinal, and so was his successor, Jozef de Kesel, created by Pope Francis. At the consistory of 2015, the pope also gave the red hat to Karl Jozef Rauber, the former nuncio to Belgium who strongly opposed the appointment of Léonard as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.
Another new cardinal recently over the age of 80 is Archbishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal, archbishop emeritus of Cartagena, Colombia, while the biretta given to Archbishop Arrigo Miglio, the archbishop emeritus of Cagliari, Italy, who will turn 80 next July, is a bit surprising.
Monsignor Fortunato Frezza, an 80-year-old canon of St. Peter’s Basilica (and chaplain to the soccer team AS Roma), who worked for years for the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, will also become cardinal. Here, the pope wanted to reward the old guard of the Synod of Bishops, and it is a sign that should not be underestimated.
Pope Francis’ vision
Pope Francis uses consistories as a form of government. The first criterion is representativeness, and Francis has dramatically expanded the electoral representation. Following the consistory in August, 18 countries that previously never had a cardinal will be represented in the College of Cardinals.
Pope Francis also used consistories to change profoundly the profile of the College. So far, he has created 83 cardinal electors (101 after the August consistory.) The pope has no qualms about going beyond the limit of cardinal electors because the message he is conveying is important to him.
This consistory, in particular, sends a message of “completion of work.” The pope clarifies which positions he prefers, highlights that the Curia does not weigh greatly for him, and underlines the importance of the peripheral dioceses.
At the same time, Pope Francis confirms a typical feature of his modus operandi: that of discussing decisions only after they have been made. This happened during the curial reform process and also happens now that the reform has been unveiled.
The pope has asked the cardinals for a meeting months after Praedicate evangelium comes into force. This is not, after all, a reform made by consensus, although drafts of the constitution were sent to the presidents of the world’s episcopal conferences. It is a reform made to respond to the mandate entrusted to Pope Francis. The cardinals will not be able to change the reform. They will only be able to acknowledge it.
It is for all these reasons that the August consistory gives the impression of an endpoint. After this, Pope Francis will only make minor adjustments, and perhaps he will not preside over another consistory. After Aug. 30, we will see, more clearly than ever before, the outlines of his legacy.