After one of the consistories earlier in the pontificate of Pope Francis, for which I did the radio commentary – possibly in 2016 but more likely in June 2017, as the sun was bright and it was rather warm outside and I remember the city in bloom (a magnificent spectacle) – I met a monsignor on my way out. He had an office that put him in fairly close and frequent contact with the communication device. He was in his happy rags.
“What a renewal for the Church! he told me, about of the creation we had just witnessed.
“Those are red caps,” I offered, without too much concern. Red hats are what they are. The pope must distribute them from time to time.
While Pope Francis is rightly praised for his willingness to search underserved and underrepresented neighborhoods for heads on which to perch red hats – and there is much to be said for this – his reluctance to foster relationships and community among its choices is problematic, to say the least. Cardinals help the Pope govern the universal Church while he lives and reigns, and choose his successor when the See of Rome is vacant.
To do well, they must know each other. They need to have an idea of each other’s interests – real and perceived – as well as each other’s concerns and priorities. They must know each other personally. Every man needs to have some idea of what makes the other manic, or at least be on good terms with someone who has such a feeling. This type of work dynamic simply does not develop on its own or overnight. Popes frequently summon cardinals to general assemblies, which helps them feel each other. Francis did so at the start of his pontificate, but has not brought together the entire College of Cardinals for such an “extraordinary consistory” since 2015. Francis says he wants to meet the entire College for two days after the ordinary consistory in August, but that alone will set him back a day late and a dollar less.
Men who barely know each other cannot work well together, and Pope Francis has not done all he can to give his closest associates the chance to get to know each other in a meaningful way, to understand the personalities, interests , the concerns, the priorities of each. Critics of Francis have accused him of playing politics with his appointments to the College of Cardinals, but every pope does. Francis’ appointments frequently strike observers as rather theatrical (despite being political theatre), however, and this time is no exception.
Sunday’s announcement of new red hats drew cheers from many quarters, along with groans and shrugs from Rome to the peripheries – geographic and existential – for the names on the list and the names omitted (some d between them rather visibly).
The major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, did not receive a red hat, for example. Catholics in war-torn Ukraine and Ukrainians in general may have appreciated such a gesture of solidarity in the face of the unprovoked invasion of Russia undertaken without any plausible case of war (and with a little nuclear terrorism as a measure). Pope Francis, however, is playing his own game with Russia these days and will not be distracted or deterred.
Pope Francis has seen fit to elevate a legionary curial official, Archbishop Fernando Vergez Alzaga, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
The Legionaries of Christ are the religious congregation founded by notorious sociopath and inveterate evil, Marcial Maciel, who used priestly society as a front for his criminal exploits. Maciel also used the secular arm of the Legion – a group called Regnum Christi – as a cash cow to fund his debauchery.
It’s one thing to refrain from suppressing the Legion altogether, as Pope Francis did (and Benedict before him, though at least they didn’t protect and promote Maciel, as did the Pope Saint John Paul II, no doubt influenced by the late Cardinal Angelo Sodano, his former Secretary of State, who died last week at the age of 94). It’s another to raise people who relate to it, even if they’re lifers like Bishop Vergez.
Pope Francis appointed Vergez bishop in 2013, after more than four decades of curial service in various offices and departments. Then Francis appointed him archbishop and put him on the secret Vatican financial oversight board and installed him as chief administrator of the Vatican City government. The Presidency of the Commission for the Vatican City and of the Governorate is the cantonment of a cardinal (although the city had a layman for governor until the last century), only… why raise a man like Vergez to such heights? ?
It is wrong to attribute guilt by association, and wrong to destroy a man simply because he has an unhappy attachment. Yet to cautiously let a personally intact man serve out his time in lesser office is light years away from destroying his career or smearing his name.
If the personal is a policy – and it is – then victims of the Legion and of clerical sexual abuse in general may feel that Pope Francis’ policy is somewhere between “Nothing to see here” and “Get over it, already. It is an impression made all the more easily forgivable by Francis’s decision to create Bishop Lucas Van Looy, SDB (emeritus of Ghent in Belgium). Van Looy does not have what could accurately be described as a trouble-free record of abuse and concealment.
The big one for Catholics in the United States – whose name has drawn both cheers and mockery – is Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a “Bishop Francis” very close (and very much in the shadows) of the Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago. Smart money wants Cupich had something to do with getting McElroy’s name on the list.
Church watchers and Vatican insiders already knew that Cardinal Cupich was powerful. If Cupich is intent on building and solidifying his power base, it looks like Pope Francis is ready to play with him and with McElroy. Neither Cupich nor McElroy are exactly popular among the brethren of the American episcopate, but popes don’t give out red hats based on their performance in popularity contests.
News of the impending creation of the Bishop of San Diego as Robert Walter Cardinal McElroy may well be a hard pill to swallow for the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, not least because San Diego is a suffragan seat of LA, where Gomez has been without a red hat since taking over from famed Roger Cardinal Mahony in 2011.
Gomez’s statement regarding the company was nonetheless cool and perfect in Church parlance.
“By appointing Bishop Robert McElroy Cardinal,” reads the USCCB President’s official statement, “Pope Francis has shown his pastoral concern for the Church in the United States.” It’s the kind of thing that supporters and critics alike can answer, “Indeed.”
Bishop Gomez said he “knew and had the privilege of working with Cardinal-designate McElroy for many years,” and that they had worked “as brother bishops” on several issues and initiatives in service of the Conference. of the Catholic Bishops of the United States, as well as the Catholic Conference of California.
“[Bishop McElroy’s] strong faith and the pastoral concern for the faithful that he demonstrated in his diocese will serve the global Church well,” Bishop Gomez also said.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco noted that Bishop McElroy “is a San Franciscan native” and sent “congratulations to Cardinal-elect McElroy.” Cordileone, you’ll recall, recently made headlines when he announced that staunchly pro-choice House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — whose constituency includes most of San Francisco — shouldn’t stand. present for Holy Communion within the Archdiocese, citing its position on Abortion.
The move itself was not a big surprise. If the timing was somewhat confusing, perhaps this Sunday’s announcement offers some clarity. Suffice it to say, McElroy takes a different view of the best pastoral approach to wayward and recalcitrant politicians when it comes to Holy Communion. Never mind. Different shots.
It used to be fun to tease the post of who had a red hat and who didn’t. These days, maybe not so much.
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