For the first time since its establishment in 2013, the so-called C9, or the Council of Cardinals who assist the pope in governing the Church and reforming the Curia, is on the verge of a major shakeup. Originally composed of eight cardinals and a bishop secretary, the council was expanded to nine with the addition of the Secretary of State in 2014.
^The Council of Cardinals in 2013. From left to right: Cardinal Errázuriz, Bishop Semeraro, Cardinal Gracias, Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Cardinal Maradiaga, Cardinal Bertello, Cardinal O’Malley, Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya. Cardinal Parolin was not yet a member.
In its 26th meeting, which concluded today, the members asked the pope to, among other things, consider the composition of the council, also taking into account the age of some of the members. This seems a direct reference to the three members who are over 75, the mandatory age of retirement for bishops and cardinals in the Curia (cardinals automatically retire at the age of 80, if their retirement had not been accepted before then). However, if, in his deliberations on this issue, the pope decides to look a few years ahead, all but two of the members of the Council of Cardinals could arguably be up for retirement.
The three senior members, who are almost certainly to retire from the Council, are:
- Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, 83
- Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, 78
- George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, 77
Of these, Cardinals Errázuriz and Pell are also facing accusations of mismanagement of sexual abuse claims, perhaps further compromising their position in the Council – Cardinal Errázuriz as part of the overall Chilean abuse crisis, while Cardinal Pell, who maintains his innocence, is currently in the middle of court proceedings against him in his native Australia.
Of the other six members, 2 are currently 75, while two more will reach that age within the next to years. They are:
- Óscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, 75
- Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, president of the Governorate of and the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, 75
- Seán Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, 74
- Oswald Cardinal Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, 73
Of these, four, Cardinal Maradiaga stands accused of complicity in the handling of abuse cases and financial mismanagement, while, on he other side of the case, Cardinal O’Malley continues to play a significant part in the fight against abuse as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Rounding out the membership, and not at risk to be retired, at least for reasons of age are:
- Reinhard Cardinal Marx, archbishop of München und Freising, 64
- Pietro Cardinal Parolin, secretary of state, 63
- Bishop Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, 70
Who Pope Francis will select to replace the three senior Council members is anyone’s guess, although it would be logical if he maintains the practice of choosing one member per continent. So we may expect a new member each from South America, Africa and Oceania. But other than that, the guessing is actually harder than back in 2013. In his first year as pope, Francis will have likely picked cardinals he knew well enough (Errázuriz), or who headed a major diocese in their part of the world (Monsengwo Pasinya, Pell). Now, five years later, and as we have seen from the cardinals he has created, Francis may well have an eye for the little men, some of whom he gave a red hat. As it is actually called a Council of Cardinals, we can safely assume that he will choose cardinals, and not regular bishops or archbishops. Then again…
In the same statement about their 26th meeting, the Council of Cardinals also announced hat a formal response to the Viganò allegations would be forthcoming. A welcome announcement.