Now a C6, Pope’s advisory council sees three members go

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.750.422The decision was not unexpected, but it may have important repercussions for the future work of the Council of Cardinals as well as for Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the Curia. In September, the nine-member Council had requested the pope to reflect on “the work, structure and composition of the Council itself, also taking into account the advanced age of some members”, as today’s press release has it. At the time, I speculated that the most likely Council members to be let go were Cardinals George Pell, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya. It turns out that I was right.

card_monsengwuThe three cardinals are all of advanced age, with Cardinal Pell being the youngest at 77. In fact, only for Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya would age have been the sole reason to be let go from the Council. In February, the 79-year-old Congolese prelate had a coadjutor archbishop appointed to assist him in his Archdiocese of Kinshasa. In November this coadjutor, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, took over as archbishop of Kinshasa and Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya retired. The letting go of Cardinals Pell and Errázuriz ,, although in part motivated by their age, is also coloured by their involvement in sexual abuse cases, with Cardinal Errázuriz playing a role in the abuse crisis in Chile and Cardinal Pell currently on trial in his native Australia.

The Council of Cardinals now consists of the following members:

  • Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
  • Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State and the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State
  • Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay
  • Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising and Coordinator of the Council for the Economy
  • Cardinal Séan O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State

The Council is assisted by Bishop Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, as secretary, and Bishop-elect Marco Mellino as adjunct secretary (who is the sole Council member specifically appointed and made a bishop for that role (his consecration is scheduled for next Saturday, with Cardinal Parolin as main consecrator)).

While the above is significant but not unexpected, a further line in the press release states: “Given the phase of the Council’s work, the appointment of new members is not expected at present.” Should this be read as an indication that the work of the Council of Cardinals is nearing completion? The press release also notes that a new version of the Apostolic Constitution, provisionally titled Predicate evangelium, has been submitted to Pope Francis, which may be another hint that the work is closer to its end than its beginning. This document is expected to replace the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, issued in 1988 by Pope Saint John Paul II, which outlines the current structure and duties of the Roman Curia. Pope Francis has of course already changed some aspects of Pastor Bonus, by merging dicasteries and creating new ones. A new Apostolic Constitution will not only outline the names and duties of the dicasteries, but also how they must function by themselves and in relation to the rest of the Roman Curia.

Photo credit: [1] Vatican Media, [2] CNS

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Changes for the C9

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.

council of cardinals

^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.

The important things happen behind closed doors – the Council of Cardinals gets to work

Although much attention has been given to Pope Francis’s second interview in less than two weeks (more on that later), the real meat behind his proposed reforms is being discussed behind the closed doors of the private library in the papal apartments.

council of cardinals

The Council of Cardinals, from left to right: Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, George Cardinal Pell and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya.

The Council of Cardinals (not the ‘G8’ – that’s a dumb name) will meet twice daily until Thursday. On Friday, they will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Assisi. In the previous months, the cardinal members have been working generally solo, collecting information from the bishops, priests and faithful in their part of the world, although they have been in contact of course. During World Youth Day in Rio, some of them met up unofficially to speak about their mandate.

The meetings which started today will remain private and, as the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, we shouldn’t be expecting any sweeping changes just yet. The council’s work will take a long time, which is also the reason why Pope Francis made it a permanent body. Membership is to the Pope’s  discretion, and we may expect a ninth member from one of the Eastern Churches soon.

In closing I recommend this interview with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, conducted by Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV, in which the cardinal speaks about the Council of Cardinals and their work, among other things:

Photo credit: Catholic News Service photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Francis’ Group of Eight

francis o'malleyIt’s not really a surprise, as Pope Francis’ intention to restructure the Roman Curia had been discussed and speculated about since his election – in fact, it was a major topic  during the pre-conclave General Congregations. Never having been a curial cardinal himself, Pope Francis has decided to appoint a group of eight cardinals to help him in this process: the first concrete step towards a possible future restructuring. But what is noticeable is that only one of the members of this group comes from the Curia. It seems that a multinational group of non-curial prelates will have a major say about the future of the Curia.

Oscar Andrés Cardinal Maradiaga Rodríguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), will act as coordinator of the group, and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano (Italy) will be secretary. The remaining six members are:

  • Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, President of the Governatorate of Vatican City State
  • Francisco Javier Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa, Archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile (Chile)
  • Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (India)
  • Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of München und Freising (Germany)
  • Laurent Cardinal Monswengo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
  • Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston (United States)
  • George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney (Australia)

This seems to be an answer to the desire of several cardinals, among them Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, that a group of cardinals be established to assist the Pope in the management of the Church.  The difference here though, is that the current group of eight will only assist the Pope in one very specific matter not unlike the group of three that Pope Benedict XVI tasked with investigating the VatiLeaks case last year.

Aside from the general task of advising the Pope in the government of the Church, the Group of 8 will study a lan for revising Pastor Bonus, the Apostolic Constitution by which Blessed Pope John Paul II launched a number of revisions to the Curia in 1998. The general expectation and hope seems to be that certain offices will be merged or even suppressed to achieve a more effective Curia without the excessive careerism that many have noted has been preventing a smooth running of the Curial duties.

The Group of 8 will first meet in October, although Pope Francis is in contact with all of them (and with the Holy Father we may assume that that is certainly true – after all, he is not averse to picking up the phone to whoever he needs to speak to).

Photo credit: CNS